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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bringing Decency Back


The famous ACT UP refrain that galvanized a movement was “Silence = Death”.

Despite a reputation for silence worthy of a monk, Virginia Tech killer, Cho Seung-Hui, who peers and roommates say rarely uttered a word, let rip in a frightening, rambling, multimedia diatribe that he mailed off to NBC mid-massacre.

His perceived isolation and feelings of victimization (as a million talking heads have concluded, verified perhaps by his own contributions) fomented an intense rage that he silently withheld until Monday.

His criticism and blaming of “rich kids” with “trust funds” and “debauchery” combined with his identifying with the Columbine killers revealed a resentment that might have resulted from either having been bullied or ignored because he didn’t fit in.

Yet, aside from obliterating Don Imus from the news cycle, (suggesting that had he committed this violent massacre two weeks ago, Don Imus would still be filling the airwaves with his own brand of hate and invective), he might still provide some insight as to why certain hate speech (not of the politically correct variety, but genuine threatening and fighting words that provoke violence) can have an impact that is far more dangerous than offending Al Sharpton.

As if to illustrate what the killer might have been feeling, The Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed reported that the killer was a 24-year-old Chinese student who arrived in San Francisco on United Airlines on Aug. 7 on a visa issued in Shanghai. (Atlantic Unbound’s James Fallows has documented the subsequent “Orwellian” cleansing of The Chicago Sun-Times’ web site to remedy the gaffe that sent shockwaves through China.) Chinese, Asian, Oriental, Korean. What’s the difference? The same thinking that Don Imus and his gang would spout about all Muslims being “stinking ragheads.”

Tart columnist Maureen Dowd is seldom at a loss for words, but her silence over the firing of Don Imus was in stark contrast to the embarrassing attempts to justify his tacit endorsement by another New York Times Imus enabler, Frank Rich – a frequent guest on the show.

Yes, Rich admitted to being a hypocrite, but defended Imus on the basis that Imus was an equal-opportunity offender, railing against Jews (like Frank). Comparing him to Comedy Central’s Southpark and Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat, Rich failed to see the difference. Southpark is able to get away with insulting everyone because the creators hold up a mirror that educates and entertains at the same time. Same with Borat. Imus and his gang spew hate for no reason other than to see what they can get away with. Their authentic ugliness is transparent. Yes, still protected, but Rich’s claim that he hadn’t heard or didn’t appreciate the extent of Imus’ invective (or his team including Charles McCord, Sid Rosenberg, Bo Dietl and the other losers who consider themselves comedians with the same self-delusion that Sanjaya Malakar deems himself a singer) suggests that Rich is either disingenuous or an idiot. And the latter, he isn’t.

The Silence of the Dowd, however was also deafening. Perhaps she didn’t have the stomach for having to justify why she would chat with Imus as Bernard McGuirk, his Executive Producer, wondered if Representative Cynthia McKinney had ever had “white man’s jizz on her face,” or specifically referring to Dowd herself, suggested that he would apologize to her for criticizing her with “the tip of my Timberland shoe” after she posited that the Church sex abuse scandal was a pedophilia, rather than a homosexual, problem.

But Maureen Dowd has a right to remain silent, despite how bloody her hands are. Far less excusable was NBC’s Tim Russert on Meet the Press Sunday, where he squirmed so uncomfortably that even I felt sorry for him. Washington Post’s Gwen Ifill, who Imus once gallantly referred to as a “cleaning lady” thankfully did not allow Russert or David Brooks (yet another New York Times Imus enabler) to get away with their lame attempts to try and compare Don Imus to Snoop Dogg or feign indignation over McGuirk’s portrayal of Cardinal Egan (perhaps the most authentic McGuirk ever was).

This isn’t about words, it’s about context. Hell, even Ann Coulter knows that.

So in the name of decency (also known as lost advertising revenue), Don Imus was fired by NBC, who claimed that they wanted to work toward a campaign of common decency that expanded beyond the walls of their news organization with its strained credibility.

That was before they received the “multimedia manifesto” from Cho Seung-Hui.

Now watch how decency looks, grieving families be damned, when advertisers aren’t bolting.

Clinton Fein can be emailed at


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