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ABC Cancels "Roseanne" After Star's Racist Tweet; President Trump Silent on Roseanne Firestorm. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 30, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:09] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Brianna Keilar in Washington.

The Ambien made her do it? A new excuse in the string of tweets from Roseanne Barr overnight. The now jobless actress apologizing for her racist tweet about Valerie Jarrett that led to the cancellation of her TV show.

HARLOW: A television show that President Trump has touted. He even called Roseanne to congratulate her after the show's premiere had mega ratings. This morning, though, deafening silence from the president on Roseanne's racism. But we are hearing from the target of her vicious tweets, Valerie Jarrett.

Our Brian Stelter has been following all of this story since it broke. Good morning to you, Brian.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Some of Roseanne's tweets, dozens of them overnight, they just affirm ABC's decision to cancel her show and fire her. Her Twitterfeed has manic field of re-tweets portraying her as a victim. But also some apologies. Here's some of what she's been sharing with her fans.

Barr said to her fans, "Don't defend me. It's sweet of to you try, but losing my show is nothing compared to being labeled a racist over one tweet that I regret even more." Remember, there was more than one tweet but let's move on to the next one. She also said, "I did something unforgivable, so don't defend me. It was 2:00 in the morning and I was Ambien tweeting. It was Memorial Day weekend. I went too far. I don't want to defend it. It was egregious, indefensible."

Now she's blaming Ambien there but later in the morning she deleted that post.

HARLOW: Right.

STELTER: Now she's saying the Ambien didn't make her do it. I don't know. She continued on saying, "Please don't boycott ABC. I'm not a censor. They have a right to do whatever they wish. It's OK." Again just thanking her fans. She went on by replying to a fan and saying, "I'm not a racist, I'm just an idiot who made a bad joke. Thanks for defending me."

And one more tweet from Roseanne Barr, she says, "Thanks for supporting me. I gave them the weapon to kill me. I was not equipped to take all the heat. I cracked and made a stupid, insensitive joke. It's my fault." Of course a lot of folks don't think she was making a joke at all.

I was really struck by something her longtime producing partner Tom Warner said in a statement to overnight. Tom Warner has been her partner for decades but he said she needs help, maybe therapy or counseling. Here's a part of what Tom Warner said, "I support ABC's decision to cancel the show in the wake of Roseanne Barr's most recent reprehensible tweet. I hope the good work of the show is not totally eclipsed by these abhorrent and offensive comments and that Roseanne seeks the help she so clearly needs."

HARLOW: And Brian, this is far from the first time that she's tweeted racist things. She did it about Susan Rice five years ago.


HARLOW: She called George Soros this week a Nazi. Valerie Jarrett is responding to all of this.

STELTER: Yes. But choosing not to reply on Twitter, not to take the low road, but instead to speak about this at a previously scheduled town hall. Here's a part of how she addressed that.


VALERIE JARRETT, FORMER SPECIAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think we have to turn it into a teaching moment. I'm fine. I'm worried about all the people out there who don't have a circle of friends and followers who come right to their defense, the person who's walking down the street minding their own business and they see somebody cling to their purse or walk across the street. Those ordinary examples of racism that happened every single day.


STELTER: And certainly this incident has people talking about racism and what is happening in America society, Poppy. I'm really struck by the outpouring of reactions against Roseanne Barr. There's been such widespread condemnation but she does have millions of fans, some of whom are following her on Twitter, still trying to promote her right now. It's unfortunate how she and some of her fans are so susceptible to these kinds of racist and Islamophobic conspiracy theories that she's still promoting today.

HARLOW: Yes. Thank you. Peddling in.


HARLOW: Brian, thank you. Stay with us.

Joining us in this conversation for a much deeper look, CNN contributor Nischelle Turner and Gary Levin, TV editor at "USA Today." Thank you very, very much for being here.

Gary, let me ask you, as Brian outlined, this is repeating history here for Roseanne Barr. She -- you know, Susan Rice, former National Security adviser under the Obama administration, re-tweeted a tweet from Roseanne calling her an ape in 2013. She called this week George Soros a Nazi. She said this abhorrent thing about Valerie Jarrett. A lot of this happened before ABC rehired her and decided to, you know, put this sitcom back on television. So why did ABC take the risk in the first place?

GARY LEVIN, TV EDITOR, USA TODAY: I guess it was a calculated risk on their part. They knew that she was controversial, they knew that she had a big fan base. Her show, the last time it aired, was a massive hit. So I thought -- I think they felt that she had sort of calmed down a little bit and she knew what she was getting into and that they would -- they would live with it to the point where it was -- it was OK, but I think it quickly escalated beyond that point and they realized they had a problem before this last incident happened.

[09:05:02] KEILAR: Nischelle, when you look at how ABC responded here, responding pretty swiftly and certainly critics of what Roseanne had said and of Roseanne they say, this was the way it should be. This is how fast this should have happened. Does ABC deserve the praise its getting?

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, yes. Just on the surface, yes. I guess I'm not really one who likes to give a lot of hand claps to somebody for doing something right and doing something that they should do. I don't think they did anything above and beyond what was responsible, what was corporate responsibility in this case, and I think a lot of people feel that same way.

You know, you guys were talking about the risk that they took. They did know that they were taking a risk by bringing the show back. That's one of the reasons why they only gave it nine episodes for the first season. They were testing the waters with this show. Then when they renewed it for season two, usually shows get 22 episodes. They gave it 13 episodes. So they still were testing the waters here, trying to see, OK, is this all right. Do we really want to get in fully with Roseanne and like we're seeing now they don't because of what happened.

HARLOW: Right. You know, the lesson my mom always taught me, you are who you surround yourself with and you make a calculated risk, but then you wait and wait, and look what happened.

But, Brian, listen to what Roseanne said back in March.


ROSEANNE BARR, SITCOM STARR/COMEDIAN: I really hope that it opens up, you know, civil conversation between people instead of just mudslinging. I really do because I think we need to be more civilized than that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: A civil conversation, no mudslinging. She's, you know, mudslinger-in-chief today.


STELTER: Right. I think she's trying to have it both ways. You know, I had a source at Disney say to me yesterday, Roseanne Connor, meaning the character, is not Roseanne Barr. Roseanne Connor is hilarious and warm and someone you want to watch on TV. So when she's playing that character, that's partly what made the sitcom so great. But Roseanne Barr was not able to control or manage or restrain herself in her all-fair ways and her all fair behavior.

Now she might say she was on Ambien or under the influence of some other substance, but there's no excuse for that. I mean, just take the phone away. Just put the Twitter device down. It's as easy as that. She stepped it in again and again and again, and as the source from Disney said to me enough was enough. There was no way to come back from this. And her tweets on Tuesday were, quote-unquote, "unsurvivable."

KEILAR: And her apologies are odd as well, Gary. I mean, they're all over the map. They're clearly very uncensored. Right? So she's saying -- she's even saying to her supporters, don't defend me, don't boycott ABC, but then she's blaming it on Ambien. So when she's faulting Ambien, how seriously can you take the apology part?

LEVIN: You really can't. I mean, I think she's just floundering to find some excuse where her -- where she can escape the PR debacle that it is. So, you know, she said all the right things in March when Nischelle first came on the air. She's a new person. She's not going to do politics. She's going to -- but, of course, I just think she can't help herself.

HARLOW: Nischelle, something interesting that some are pointing out is that, they say, look, this is -- they're pointing to sort of what it, this is liberal Hollywood acting so fast to fire Roseanne, to cancel the show, acting much faster than it acted to respond to the allegations against Harvey Weinstein and Roseanne even re-tweeted some of these claims in the last 24 hours or so. Any merit to that? Is that fair criticism?

TURNER: Well, it's a little like comparing apples and oranges but they're right in the fact that they did act much quicker in this case than Hollywood did react to Harvey Weinstein. I think we're in a different era now. I mean, I think Harvey Weinstein may be one of the reasons why they acted so quickly in this case because there has become or is becoming, it hasn't fully become, but there is becoming this kind of zero tolerance policy for any of these type of antics in Hollywood these days where we didn't see that, you know, a couple of years ago.

We certainly didn't see, you know, them reacting as quick. I mean, we saw a situation with Charlie Sheen and his show a few years back but that took --

HARLOW: Right.

TURNER: You know, a lot going on there and that show wasn't called the Charlie Sheen show so they could kind of get away with replacing him and keeping the show, but you know, this has been very swift. It's been very quick. I don't think that we can dismiss the fact that the head of ABC Entertainment is a black woman. So I think this also hit her where she lives and it's hard to overlook that when she is talking about someone who looks like you.

HARLOW: And --

TURNER: It's hard to brush that aside.

HARLOW: Just one really quick follow-up, Nischelle, and I know you had a sort of personal experience with this once you saw this coming through, went to your bosses on this one.

TURNER: Yes, I did. I did. And let me just preface this by saying, whenever I've interviewed Roseanne, she's been lovely to me, she's been very nice. But once this came through yesterday, I mean, we all have to draw the line and I was at a point yesterday where I said enough is enough myself and this is before the show was canceled and any of that when I saw the tweet.

[09:10:02] I did go to my bosses and I said, listen, I feel like there's some very hard questions that these people need to answer, that Roseanne needs to answer, the cast needs to answer, and until we do that, I don't -- I can't cover this show any more.

HARLOW: Good for you.

TURNER: I can't do it as a woman, as a black woman, as a human. I can't in good faith go and smile and just be ask fluff questions of this cast and of this woman when she's saying things like this so until that happens I no longer want to cover the show.

KEILAR: And Gary, it's really hard at this point in time to separate Roseanne Barr from Roseanne Connor, but what you're hearing from people who like the show, who are sad to see it go is they say, look, I would look at this show and I would see a debate going on in this family that reflects my family more than other sitcoms that I could watch. I wonder now how this affects networks as they try to strike the balance between programming for a broad swath of America.

LEVIN: Yes, you just hit on an unfortunate side effect of all of this in that there has been criticism that middle class, average Americans have not been properly reflected on television. There was a show on ABC that followed Roseanne called "The Middle" that just ended. There's two few shows like that that talk about real Americans and their struggles because television is, as you know, like an aspirational medium and people want to see people that they strive toward, so that is unfortunate.

I'm hopeful that the networks will see the appeal that Roseanne had separate from the difficulties that the star created and learn from that and learn from the popularity of the show. It was the top rated show.

STELTER: If I could just add one detail to that. Let's not rule out the possibility of a version of this show without Roseanne. This is going to get a lot of attention later today. I think there's a lot of people in Hollywood that would like to see some of the cast members and crew not lose their jobs, not be out of work but instead have some reboot of the reboot. I asked a very well placed source about this a few minutes ago, the source said, quote, "There will be a time to sit down and look at all the options." I read that as the door being wide open.


STELTER: To the possibility of a Roseanne without Roseanne.

LEVIN: I think --

TURNER: Well, it's interesting yesterday Mindy Kaling just tweeted and we know her from the "Mindy Projects" now and her movies but she is a writer. She tweeted John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, let me write some things for you. You know, she has some ideas. So you never know what could happen. You never know what could come out of this. I don't think ABC would redo the show in some form, but you never know what could happen.

LEVIN: The problem with it, Brian -- the problem, Brian, is that Roseanne is not only the star of the show, she's an executive producer and the creator of the show, so any change they would make to the show, a reboot without her, she would still profit from, she would have approval over and so it's a more complicated situation.

KEILAR: Yes, it's a really good point.

HARLOW: Good point. Yes.

KEILAR: All right. Thank you guys so much. Gary Levin, Nischelle Turner, Brian Stelter, we do appreciate the conversation.

And still to come, the president once cheered on Roseanne for her ratings but will he condemn her for the racist tweet. He's still staying silent.

Plus a new report the president asked Attorney General Sessions to reverse his decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe. What that means for Robert Mueller's special investigation? Plus the swipe the president took at Sessions just moments ago.

HARLOW: And later, the unraveling of a conspiracy theory. Republican congressman, head of the Oversight Committee, Trey Gowdy has seen all the intel behind the president's claims of a spy, the unfounded claims, and he tells the country the FBI acted just fine. The president's not going to like that.


KEILAR: This morning, it seems that everyone has an opinion on Roseanne, but so far silent is President Trump. And this is notable given his recent praise of the conservative sitcom star.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look at Roseanne. I called her yesterday. Look at her ratings. Look at her ratings.

I got a call from Mark Burnett. He did "The Apprentice". He's a great guy. He said, Donald, I called just to say hello and to tell you, did you see Roseanne's ratings? I said, Mark, how big were they? They were unbelievable. Over 18 million people and it was about us. They haven't figure it out. The fake news hasn't quite figure it had out yet.


Joining us now we have CNN political commentators Tara Setmayer and Ben Ferguson.



KEILAR: Good morning. AND so, Tara, I wonder if you could listen to some of the things President Trump has said because some people are drawing a line here between the tone he has set and sort of the tone that Roseanne has carried out.

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I'm one of those people. Is President Trump directly responsible for what Roseanne says and does? No.

Has his own rhetoric, his own racially inflammatory comments, not only throughout his career but during the campaign and still while in office, has that set a tone that's emboldened people like Roseanne who have these awful, bigoted, racist viewpoints on things, has that emboldened them to think that it's OK now to publicly behave like that or act like or say those things? Yes, I think it does.

There's no way that you can ignore that the president of the United States, who has the bully pulpit, the most powerful position in the world, the level of influence that he has, his behavior, his words, what he condemn and doesn't condemn matters. It sets a tone.

I don't care what anybody says. The coarsening of the culture has been accelerated with the way Donald Trump behaves.

KEILAR: Let's listen to some of that. Let's roll it.


TRUMP: But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.

[09:20:02] Look at my African-American over here.

When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists.

Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say get that son of a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) off the field right now.

They call her "Pocahontas".


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: So, Ben Ferguson, there's also the refusal of the president to immediately denounce KKK grand wizard David Duke. Democrats draw a direct line between the president at the top setting the tone and people like Roseanne writing what she wrote. Is that fair?

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think Roseanne has been someone that has for a long time pushed limits. And I don't think that you can blame that on Donald Trump.

I think she's a grown adult. She should be held accountable for her own words. Clearly, what she said, she apologized for, took it down and said it was wrong.

I don't think you can blame Donald Trump for any of Roseanne's antics. Look back over the last 30 or 20 years of her career. She has always pushed the limit. She pushed the limits the first time the show was on the air. She pushed the limits the second time the show was on the air.

What she wrote was wrong, it was inexcusable, but this has been consistent with Roseanne. They knew they were taking a risk with Roseanne when they put this show back on the air. That has nothing to do with Donald Trump.

So, to somehow claim that Donald Trump is responsible or somehow influenced Roseanne and her antics, which have had a massive history of pushing the line, I think is basically like a child saying, well, he made me do it.

She's a grown adults. Let's hold them accountable individually for what they do and not imply that somehow Donald Trump made this happen when he didn't.

SETMAYER: That's not what I said. That's not what I said. What I said was -

FERGUSON: But I think you're implying that it's the culture that he's brought out is somehow she felt she should do this.

SETMAYER: No, I felt - I think that the fact that even ABC giving her a second chance with the reboot on the show is something that probably never would have happened under the Obama administration because of how despicable Roseanne is and because of how low class and trashy she's been and racist and anti-Semitic.

The list goes on and on. That those kinds of things were not - those kinds of things were not acceptable before Donald Trump came along.

He's pushed the envelope because so many conservatives - I'm a conservative and I'm calling it out. Too many conservatives have decided that Donald Trump's racist and bigoted behavior and obnoxiousness on a lot of other things are OK just because as long as they get a policy


KEILAR: Ben, can I ask you?

FERGUSON: Here's my point, though.

SETMAYER: He's created the opening.

FERGUSON: If this is accurate and true, then explain to me why ABC/ESPN can now bring back Keith Olbermann who has referred to the president as the MF-er -

KEILAR: Ben, I want to refocus this on what we're talking about here.

FERGUSON: Well, that's an important point. It's the same company. They don't fire - they fire Roseanne. They don't fire Olbermann. They bring him back. He wrote a book referring to the president as the F bomb. He's referred to the president as Nazi.

KEILAR: Look, Ben, they also shelved the blackish episodes that dealt with the NFL anthems thing. So, I'd like to refocus this here.

You do believe that Roseanne was targeted because she was a conservative supporting Trump. To be clear, there's a lot more going on here, though, right? She's peddled conspiracy theories. She's said what she said about Susan Rice as well as Valerie Jarrett, which Susan Rice retweeted.

She called -


KEILAR: She tweeted that George Soros was a Nazi. So, I understand, while you laud that she's someone who through her show has represented conservatives or the show has represented conservatives, they feel a kinship with the characters and with the show, why is it that the person you want reflecting a wide swath of Americans would be someone like this?

FERGUSON: I would've never picked Roseanne in the first place. I don't think that she represents me truly. I think the show was having an open dialogue and it had many diverse viewpoints, whether it be her sister or nieces or anyone else in the show.

I mean, the show, if you watch the actual show, it had one extreme to the other extreme and they had a conversation about it, which is why people enjoyed it.

Why, I think, many conservatives are very upset that she was, in fact, fired after, by the way, apologizing, taking the tweet down and saying do not defend me, I am sorry, is the fact that there is a double standard clearly at ABC/ESPN when you have people that they will defend and hire like Olbermann who they just hired back, who just wrote a book calling the president the F bomb, referring to him a Nazi over and over again, how can you stand out there and say we will not defend and we refuse to stand by Roseanne and we're firing her to set an example, but you hire a guy that's gone 100 times worse on Twitter toward the president of the United States.

[09:25:06] SETMAYER: That's a fair criticism and ABC can answer for themselves. The problem is that too many conservatives are trying to make excuses instead of unequivocally saying -

FERGUSON: I'm not making excuses.

SETMAYER: I'm not saying you. I'm saying they're out there. I've been paying to the coverage of this, including arguments that I had directly with some conservatives last night on Twitter over this.

And, by the way, Roseanne went back on Twitter and was retweeting pictures, memes of apes and Donald Trump and still trying to justify.

HARLOW: We have to leave it there. We have to leave it there. The president hasn't said anything on this. His son, though, Don, Jr. retweeted the tweet, the lie that Roseanne tweeted George Soros, that's notable.

And, Ben, I would just say, that if you delete something, you still said it and you still wrote it. Thank you both for being here.

SETMAYER: Thank you.

HARLOW: Coming up, President Trump telling the world he wishes he'd picked another attorney general. A new report says he berated Sessions recusing himself in the Russia probe. So, how will all of this impact Bob Mueller's probe. We're going to discuss that next.