Imagine this: The author of the most popular book in the country goes on Bill Maher’s show and says the following about President Barack Obama: “There is something in the book that I was absolutely sure of but it was so incendiary that I just didn’t have the ultimate proof,” he says. “I didn’t have the blue dress.”
The host pushes the coy writer for a hint. “You just have to read between the lines toward the end of the book,” the writer answers. “When you hit that paragraph you’re going to say, ‘Bingo!’”
Within moments, every person with a copy turns to the last bit. The woman’s name jumps out as if it was printed in boldface: Samantha Power, the United Nations ambassador. “The president has been spending a notable amount of private time,” the book says, with her on Air Force One.
Do I have to tell you what the reaction to this rumor-mongering would be? Heads would explode on every cable channel (except for Fox, of course, which would be calling for a special investigation). Editorials would issue forth condemning this gutter journalism as thinly veiled sexism. Some would insist that it be viewed as a #MeToo moment — unambiguous evidence of the deep discomfort men feel in the face of powerful women.
But when the woman in question is Nikki Haley, the United Nations ambassador appointed by President Trump, and the evidence-free detail is being spread gleefully by Michael Wolff, the author of “Fire and Fury”? Yeah, not so much.
Ms. Haley has not taken well to the insinuation that she’s sleeping with the president, perhaps especially because the rumor was coupled to this line in the book: She “had concluded that Trump’s tenure would last, at best, a single term, and that she, with the requisite submission, could be his heir apparent.”
Ms. Haley, a former South Carolina governor, called the rumor “highly offensive” and “disgusting.” She told Politico: “At every point in my life, I’ve noticed that if you speak your mind and you’re strong about it and you say what you believe, there is a small percentage of people that resent that and the way they deal with it is to try and throw arrows, lies or not.”
So it’s not difficult to imagine how Ms. Haley might have felt when she watched the Grammys Sunday night. At one point in the show, James Corden, the host, set up a bit in which various celebrities — Cardi B, Cher, Snoop Dogg, John Legend — audition to be the narrator of the audiobook version of “Fire and Fury.” The final reader, who slowly reveals her face from behind the hardcover, is Hillary Clinton.
Yes, the very same politician who, just two days before the awards show, was exposed as overriding the advice of her campaign manager in 2008 to protect a “faith adviser” who had repeatedly sexually harassed a young female subordinate.
I checked feminist Twitter. Would the Grammys be called out for hypocrisy? Or at least for tone-deafness? Crickets.
Not so Ambassador Haley, who shot back immediately: “I have always loved the Grammys but to have artists read the ‘Fire and Fury’ book killed it. Don’t ruin great music with trash. Some of us love music without the politics thrown in it.”
Commentators jumped on Ms. Haley as if she were suggesting that there ought to be, or has ever been, a bright line between music and politics. But Ms. Haley is not a stupid woman. It’s a bad-faith reading of the tweet to assume that she’s unaware of the music of Woody Guthrie or Nina Simone or Johnny Cash and virtually everyone else in the American songbook.
The “politics” in question surely involved the star treatment of a questionable book written by an author trying to increase sales by hyping unsubstantiated rumors.
There’s a broader lesson here. For years, the fundamental complaint of the right in the culture wars has been that the left is hypocritical, and the Nikki Haley episode perfectly confirms the point: A prominent Republican woman is smeared. The author who does the smearing is celebrated by all the A-listers, including the most prominent Democratic woman in the country, who herself has a history of giving a pass (or worse) to men accused of sexual assault and harassment. And yet the arbiters of American culture cheer the Democrat and, in the words of the actor Don Cheadle, tell the Republican who has the gall to defend herself: “Sit down, girl. You’re drunk.”
In the Trump era, the left has smartly and justifiably seized a moral high ground that the right has abandoned by its embrace of the president. That’s a high ground the left cannot hold if it embraces subtle double standards that it would never accept for a moment if the woman in question was a Kirsten Gillibrand or a Kamala Harris.
When Matt Lauer subjected Hillary Clinton to a harsh interview, within 24 hours it was common knowledge that it was evidence of misogyny. But when Nikki Haley is smeared with the most base, sexist lie, it’s met with little more than a collective shrug.
Read more: The Slut-Shaming of Nikki Haley