In one of the most comically sanctimonious rants in the history of MSNBC Wednesday night, host Lawrence O’Donnell attacked me and the other panelists for poking fun of restaurateur Mario Batali during the Fox News Channel show “Red Eye.” Batali has been protesting potential cuts in the federal government’s food stamp program by subsisting, along with his family, on the equivalent of a food stamp budget for one week.
On “Red Eye,” I suggested that if Batali wanted to help the poor, he should “do what he does well, which is start successful restaurants and hire people.”
Seems like an obvious point, right? Here’s how Mr. Sanctimony Lawrence O’Donnell responded on his show “The Last Word” after showing the clip:
“You have to be so disconnected from American popular culture not to know that Mario Batali has started many successful restaurants, and hired hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands of people to staff those restaurants. He has 11 restaurants from New York to Los Angeles. He also runs Eataly, a large combination of markets and restaurants under a single roof here in new york. and he’s also created jobs in the television business by his own very successful TV show, The Chew, on ABC.”
There are two points that need to be made here, one more important than the other.
The less important point is that my statement made clear that I know who Mario Batali is and what he does. Hence, “he should do what he does best …” I would have to know what he does best –- start restaurants – in order to suggest that he should do more of it. Either O’Donnell and his staff deliberately ignored the obvious meaning of my words or they aren’t the most analytically sophisticated bunch, to put it nicely.
But the more important point this this: Why would you be culturally out of touch to not know who Mario Batali is? Quite the opposite, actually. Those who think people would be culturally out of touch for not knowing Mario Batali are actually the ones out of touch.
Batali is a $100-per-meal restaurateur. Few Americans regularly eat at places where dinner costs that much, and fewer still keep close tabs on the proprietors of those restaurants. He is not a must-know cultural icon. If you’re a foodie, yes, you will know who Mario Batali is. If you’re an MSNBC host, yes, you’ll probably know who Mario Batali is. But most people in America wouldn’t.
Only someone living in a Upper West Side New York bubble would believe otherwise.
The “Red Eye” segment, comic and irreverent as they always are, poked fun at Batali for his food-stamp stunt — which may have been well-intentioned, but was fundamentally silly. As O’Donnell chronicled, Batali has done some great work for the poor. But this act of symbolism is not among these good works.
My point stands: If Batali focused his energies on starting a twelfth restaurant instead of staging an inconsequential stunt, it would have had far more practical benefit.
I would love to make this point face-to-face to Lawrence if he would invite me on his show, but I won’t hold my breath.
Watch O’Donnell’s whole mind-blowing rant: