Pardon This Interruption: Save Tony Kornheiser!

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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A couple years ago, I wrote a fairly extensive piece on how the Left is taking over sports. Once the last remaining bastion for the patriotic gun rack crowd, liberalism and political correctness about things ranging from overt patriotism (how dare we support the troops!) to the Washington Redskins (gasp!) are running amok.

Which is exactly why I’m pushing back on the attacks aimed at Tony Kornheiser.

This might sound odd, since Kornheiser is a liberal who golfs with President Obama and recently asked if the tea party is like ISIS, but the suggestion that ESPN should consider suspending Kornheiser sounds more like tactics the Left engages in.

In case you missed the recent controversy, this is from a conversation he had on Friday with the Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman:

Fineman: … What [Paul Ryan is] probably going to have to do, if in fact he gets in. Is stage some kind of fight with them and defeat them, or take away their power, and go after them. I don’t know if he’s got the guts to do that. I don’t know if he’s got the numbers to do it.

Kornheiser: “Are they like ISIS trying to establish a Caliphate here?!”

Fineman: “Yes! Yes! That’s a very good analogy! Without the violence obviously, but yes, they are a rejectionist front.”

So how can I defend that?

The answer, of course, is that Kornheiser was engaging in hyperbole, and conservatives should be a little less like the Left in terms of calling the speech police.

Kornheiser’s show is as much a comedy show as it is a sports show. And guess what? You can’t do comedy if you’re walking on eggshells hoping not to offend anyone.

Kornheiser’s shtick is in the Larry David mold. He’s a curmudgeon who sometimes says crazy, irreverent things. That’s baked into the cake. (I know this because I listen to his ESPN radio show almost every day. In fact, the only time I have ever earned the grudging approval of my father-in-law was the time “Mr. Tony” mentioned me on air.)

Unlike Kornheiser, Fineman is the one who appears to have taken the question somewhat seriously (with the huge caveat that the tea party doesn’t use violence). Despite the fact that Republican Torie Clark is a frequent guest on the show, political guests (usually presented as neutral observers) tend to skew liberal. That’s a valid criticism. But Kornheiser — who again, engages in hyperbole for comedic purposes — makes no attempt to disguise his political persuasion.

Of course, the big reason some conservatives are going for Mr. Tony’s hairless scalp is because ESPN suspended Curt Schilling earlier this year for a tweet he sent about Muslims.

I’m not a fan of ESPN, and I worry about their liberal positions and the stifling of free speech. But there are also some major differences between Schilling and Kornheiser. First, Schilling was overtly expressing a sincere political opinion, while Kornheiser was tongue in cheek. Second, Schilling is a baseball analyst who appears on broadcasts, while Kornheiser exists in his own silo, having his own radio and TV shows. If Kornheiser were still on “Monday Night Football,” I suspect he would be in more trouble. ESPN is a private business and can suspend whomever they want, but that doesn’t mean either decision was a good one.

Regardless, rooting for ESPN to suspend Kornheiser as a sort of revenge for suspending Schilling doesn’t sound like a very good reason to me. We shouldn’t be aping the Left and trying to shut down political speech we don’t like. If you don’t like Kornheiser’s show, don’t listen to it. Or, better yet, start your own show.