By Peter Barry Chowka
There are many angles to the ongoing Roseanne Barr controversy, but this one caught my attention: Last Tuesday afternoon, about twelve hours after Roseanne tweeted and quickly deleted her comments about Valerie Jarrett that almost instantly eviscerated her TV career, a Twitter user named Josh Cornett tweeted this:
BREAKING: According to sources ABC President Channing Dungey had a long conversation via phone with former First Lady Michelle Obama before deciding to cancel the Roseanne show. Michelle Obama was reportedly enraged and insisted an apology was inadequate……developing
The tweet’s sparse style was reminiscent of a headline or a tweet by Matt Drudge. It was slow to trend but around 9:32 PM PT Tuesday Roseanne retweeted someone who had retweeted Cornett’s tweet. The retweeter had added “This makes alot more sense then [sic] most things…” A few minutes later, Roseanne herself retweeted Cornett’s original tweet, and asked “is this true?”
During the next two days, Wednesday and Thursday, Cornett’s tweet, thanks to Roseanne retweeting it, became a headline story around the world. Fox News on Wednesday was one of the first MSM sources to report it and to include the essence of the tweet in the story’s headline:
Roseanne Barr says she may fight ABC firing, retweets claim Michelle Obama was behind ouster
Cornett’s tweet was one of many from Roseanne’s fans that she cited as the inspiration for her to challenge ABC’s decision after her initial apologies and mea culpas, which failed to save her show.
By Thursday, numerous U.S. media outlets as well as a number in the UK and Australia picked up on the story. The Daily Mail (London), for example, seized on Roseanne’s retweet of Cornett’s tweet in its lengthy, multi-media story that included a clip from a British TV show where the controversy was discussed at some length.
As one might imagine, close to 100% of the reporting on Roseanne Barr and her toxic tweet reflected the “me too” school of journalism that currently dominates almost all reporting. Think: pack journalism and endlessly repeated words like “racist,” “conspiracy theory,” “unsourced,” and so on. Meanwhile, no one appears to have reached out to Cornett, the author of the tweet. He was simply the foil for the media to pile on Roseanne.
I reached out to Cornett. It wasn’t hard to do. His Twitter account displayed a “message” icon meaning he could be contacted by anyone on Twitter.
Early Thursday morning, I sent Cornett a direct message on Twitter. I asked him if he could clarify his unnamed source(s) for his tweet claiming that Michelle Obama had called ABC TV president Channing Dungey and demanded that Roseanne be fired. He replied a few hours later and, as I expected, he declined to identify a source.
Can’t tell you the source, but I stand by it and put my name on it. The Obamas’ ire directed at Roseanne dates back several days before the infamous “Tweet.” Apparently they were outraged about Roseanne ridiculing their Netflix deal and it snowballed from there. SEVERAL PHONE CALLS were made.
So, according to Cornett, the plot had thickened: “Several phone calls were made.” I asked if these additional phone calls came before or after Roseanne’s infamous May 29 tweet.
The majority of the calls were before the VJ [Valerie Jarrett] tweet, they were addressing concerns over Roseanne’s Netflix tweets. Can’t confirm to who or by who. . . word of these calls may have actually been the inspiration for Roseanne’s VJ tweets. Did VJ make the Netflix calls? The firing conversation was definitely between MO [Michelle Obama] and Channing.
I next asked Cornett for some biographical information about himself. There are a lot of people out there named “Josh Cornett” – including one who works in the entertainment industry and has a single credit at the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb). Cornett replied to me on the record:
No IMDB lol, I’m an average hard working American, I’m in my 30’s, I’m an investor that was inspired to dive into politics by the sad absence of Christopher Hitchens and the frustrating existence of CNN!
A brief exchange about current political topics ensued, and it’s obvious that Cornett – as evidenced additionally by his prolific and skillful use of Twitter – is keeping up with the latest political developments. A week ago, he tweeted that former President Obama had called hip hop superstar Jay-Z and asked him to use his influence to dissuade other black rappers from having anything to do with President Trump – to prevent another rap icon like Kanye West from going over to the other side. That tweet by Cornett was picked up by the Drudge Report and was liked by Donald Trump, Jr.
I respected Cornett’s protection of the identity of his alleged source. Trying to get some further insight, I shared a possible hypothesis about what I think might be going on, based on my own past experience. I noted that from time to time I have had sources who were close to or inside power centers like executive offices and who saw and heard things and shared some of them with me with the understanding that I could never identify them. Cornett replied:
And yes, I have friends from my childhood that are very well placed and not always the most satisfied employees.
Am I able to vouch for or to confirm the validity and accuracy of Cornett’s tweet heard ‘round the world? No, of course not. At the same time, something about it has the ring of plausibility. Various theories have been floated about why and how ABC TV acted to cancel Roseanne after the actress’s offensive tweet. Some have speculated that there was already unease at the network at having created a monster #1 hit sitcom – bigger than could have been anticipated – that served as a magnet for pro-Trump audiences to glom on to. In a critical election year, far left of center Hollywood might deduce that this significant development in the popular culture could have unforeseen and unpredictable consequences for the future of the Trump Administration come November – consequences not especially favorable to the Democrat left.
Cornett’s citing an anonymous source or sources should not rule him out of consideration. After all, the leading lights of the mainstream media, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, to note only two, have based much of their ongoing critical reporting on President Trump on anonymous sources. Last August, Yashar Ali wrote a 900-word article in the Huffington Post alleging Fox News host Eric Bolling had tweeted something offensive. Ali claimed that his reporting was based on several anonymous sources but he did not identify or quote any of them. Yet that article was taken seriously and it led to Bolling (who maintained his innocence) leaving Fox News in September.
In her latest ascent to star status, Roseanne Barr herself was reportedly considered a loose cannon who was impossible to control. She has always been controversial, and a shock comedian. In July 1990, for example, she angered mostly conservatives when she sang – or shrieked, horribly off key – the National Anthem at a Major League Baseball game while she grabbed her crotch, which she said was intended to mimic what many baseball players do when they’re on the playing field.
So what are we left with as this bizarre week draws to an end? No one who was mentioned in Cornett’s tweet has denied what he tweeted. That in itself doesn’t prove anything. The cancellation of Roseanne was awfully sudden – within a few hours of her offensive tweet. In its actions, ABC blew off a franchise that may have been worth close to $1 billion in advertising revenue. The question might be asked: Who else in 2018 America has the degree of cachet and influence to insist that that kind of decision be taken?