When the Don Imus controversy happened five years ago, Leonard Pitts had a great column explaining why it was so offensive, which you can read in full here. Here’s an excerpt that shows the crux of his point:
While a coarse and irreverent people will tolerate and even celebrate breaches of decorum and the slaughter of sacred cows, one thing folks won’t put up with, one thing that riles something deep in human nature, is somebody who picks on someone smaller.
This is exactly the mistake Limbaugh made. And this what the people who complain that Limbaugh is being punished more than Ed Schultz was for calling Laura Ingraham the same thing, or why Bill Maher has never been punished for his various insults to Sarah Palin, don’t understand. Limbaugh is a successful radio host, and Sandra Fluke is a student. Limbaugh is the more powerful one in the equation, whereas Bill Maher is a successful comedian attacking a successful politician, and Ingraham and Schultz are both pundits.
I haven’t seen anyone else say this in so many words ever since Pitts did, but I think it’s a very important point.
UPDATE: Thought of another example. President Obama’s comments on the Henry Louis Gates arrest and the subsequent “Beer Summit”. That was basically the same deal. Although he might not have meant to, what it looked like was the President of the United States saying on national TV that some regular guy is “stupid”. That’s why Obama had to make amends.