Monday, February 18, 2008


In The Boston Globe, the novelist Elinor Lipman argues that we shouldn't have been upset when MSNBC's David Shuster asked whether Chelsea Clinton was being "pimped out" by her parents:

I learned of Shuster's question and its fallout while watching "Countdown," from its increasingly self-important and bombastic anchor Keith Olbermann, who added his own wah-wahs - "Utterly inappropriate and indefensible" - to the network's apology. ("We are literally, dreadfully sorry. The Clintons have every right to be furious, hurt, and appalled.") I waited for the "Not!", unwilling to believe that Olbermann's cynical ears had gone so delicate that he believed that Shuster for one millisecond was assigning any sexual-trafficking connotation to the Clinton campaign.

I would like to think that someone among the NBC brass noted, "That's live TV for you," or cited its noble twin, "Whatever happened to freedom of speech?"

Er, freedom of speech comes with a cost. The people who hear you have freedom of speech, too, i.e., the freedom to say they thought you had a goddamn nerve to say what you said.

And as for "connotation," it seems that Ms. Lipman has an interesting rule of thumb: If she can't conceive of a slur being literally true, then nobody can, and therefore the use of that slur is perfectly OK:

Which brings me to Don Imus, who surely scarred and scared the Human Resources department of MSNBC. In April I squirmed as I listened to the funereal earnestness of the deeply offended Rutgers women's basketball coach. Inherent in Vivian Stringer's testimonials was seemingly an odd given: that sane people for one second took Imus's offensive words seriously. It was as if she had to prove to a jury that these young women, caught in the crossfire of a stupid joke, weren't in fact -- you'll forgive me, but for journalistic accuracy -- "hos." Did anyone in his or her right mind need to be disabused of Imus's characterization?

Well, yes -- actually, I do think some people would think virtually any young black woman is likely to be a "ho." But maybe it's been a while since Lipman met anyone who would think such a thing. This is from the bio at her Web site:

I live part-time in Manhattan, but mostly in the bucolic yet chi-chi (8 sushi bars) college town of Northampton, Mass., home of Smith College.

You live like that and of course you're not going to know anyone who literally thinks the Rutgers women were "hos" -- or, at least, you're not going to know anyone who'd say so out loud to you. Admittedly, I'm a Manhattanite, and these days I don't run into a lot of people who say such things out loud, either, but I don't live in such an insular world that I've forgotten such people exist (and it's only been a couple of years since I went back to the Boston neighborhood where I grew up and heard an elderly former neighbor railing against "niggers").

By the way, for Ms. Lipman's delectation, here's a fuller transcript of what was said on the radio that day:

IMUS: That's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and --

McGUIRK: Some hard-core hos.

IMUS: That's some nappy-headed hos there. I'm gonna tell you that now, man, that's some -- woo. And the girls from Tennessee, they all look cute, you know, so, like -- kinda like -- I don't know.

McGUIRK: A Spike Lee thing.

IMUS: Yeah.

McGUIRK: The Jigaboos vs. the Wannabes -- that movie that he had.

IMUS: Yeah, it was a tough --

McCORD: Do The Right Thing.

McGUIRK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

IMUS: I don't know if I'd have wanted to beat Rutgers or not, but they did, right?

ROSENBERG: It was a tough watch. The more I look at Rutgers, they look exactly like the Toronto Raptors.

IMUS: Well, I guess, yeah.

RUFFINO: Only tougher.

McGUIRK: The [Memphis] Grizzlies would be more appropriate.

Rough jigaboo hos. Yeah, they should have just shrugged that off, right?


Cross-posted at the Carpetbagger Report.

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