Thursday, March 22, 2007


I read the Austin daily, The Austin American-Statesman every morning. It's not a bad paper. Their editorial page leans ever so slightly leftward (in the current sense of "left," meaning any acknowledgment, however tepid, that there may be a point of view other than Tony Snow's). I miss the New York Times, but it's important to me to know about local issues. One thing I like is that I can read it in half the time I used to spend on the Times. (I scan and to fill in the gaps on national and international news, so maybe I'm not saving any time at all. Whatever.)

Another advantage to a smaller paper in a smaller city is that when I don't agree with their editorial decisions I can write a letter and stand some chance of it being printed. My most recent letter, though, they did not print, and I'm mad about it. My letter was about the way they covered the Ann Coulter "faggot" remark. There was no coverage of the actual incident, but they printed a small story a week later about Edwards' response to it.

Here's my letter:

Dear editor:

I am offended by your article on Senator Edwards' response to Ann Coulter's calling him a faggot.

First, Coulter made this remark a week ago. This was a well-known political commentator using an extremely offensive slur in front of an audience of applauding Republican presidential candidates. If she'd called Barak Obama a nigger or Hillary Clinton a bitch, would you have taken a week to report it?

Second, you won't print the word "nigger" (or "bitch") in the Statesman, but you will print "faggot," which is just as degrading to a whole class of people. Why the inconsistency?

Third, and worst, is the paragraph about Edwards' wife and children, as if to reassure us that Edwards is not a faggot. Do I really have to point out to you that the point of the story is not that Coulter was mistaken?!

Two weeks later, I wrote and said that, if they were not going to print the letter, I would at least appreciate a response to my question about the inconsistency regarding which slurs they print in their pages. An editor emailed me to say, "In a highly publicized remark about a presidential candidate or potential candidate, we would use those words you held out as an example. In fact, we have used those words when news judgment dictated that it best serves the reader to do so."

A search of the Statesman's web site returned no hits for "nigger" and one hit for "bitch."

I'm still mad that they get away with trotting out the wife and kids to verify Edwards' heterosexuality. It just feels so sadly backward. It reminds of my freshman year at Miami University (1979!), when I wrote a paper about the play, Tea and Sympathy, objecting to what seemed to me to be the message that the taunting of the boy -- I don't remember what names the other boys called him, but the essence of the teasing was to question his heterosexuality -- was reprehensible only because the boy was not gay, which was revealed by his having some kind of sexual encounter with the female teacher.

My professor told me I was overreacting. Twenty-five years later, I'm still overreacting.

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