Watch What You Say

The recent clamor over an ignorant talk radio host behaving ignorantly — he was suspended and then fired for saying something that many people inexplicably found “offensive” — illustrates our increasing intolerance for speech, thought, and sentiment that does not fit neatly into the catalogue of acceptable ideas. 

For the record, I don’t listen to Don Imus, I don’t care what he says about anything, and I’m not disturbed that he stupidly referred to a group of female basketball players as “nappy headed hos.” The state of their collective hair is a matter of subjective opinion. As for the “ho” appellation: haven’t we learned by now that all women are hos — or, alternatively, bitches? If Imus would have merely said, “Snoop Dogg or Fifty Cent would characterize these women as ‘nappy headed hos,'” he would have simply stated a threadbare fact, and our culture would have had something else to wring its hands over.

Meanwhile, our Supreme Court has agreed to consider reviving a new federal law that makes it a crime to send computer messages that offer child pornography — even when no pornography exists. The actual language of the law in question, the so-called Protect Act of 2003, says, “Any person who knowingly advertises, promotes, presents, distributes or solicits “a visual depiction” of a child engaged in sex acts commits a crime, whether or not the material actually exists. The law was struck down last year on free-speech grounds when a federal appeals court in Atlanta said it could be considered illegal for a grandparent to send a message over the Internet promising “Good pictures of kids in bed” — even if the grandparent was referring to photos of his beloved ones in their pajamas reading a nighty-night story. Our rabid Justice Department — the same one that recently underwent a housecleaning of United States Attorneys at the behest of Republican power mongers — is seeking to have the law upheld as constitutional. “Those who traffic in what purports to be child pornography deserve no sanctuary,” said Solicitor General Paul Clement. How marvelously absurd (and also frightening) that one might be imprisoned for not possessing something.

While we vigilantly protect our children from people harboring bad thoughts, the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops reported that they had received 714 clergy sex abuse claims in 2006. The church noted that this was the second consecutive year that claims had dropped. Indeed, in 2006 dioceses and religious orders had only to pay out $399 million for settlements with victims (and their attorneys) of priestly pedophilia. The year before it was $467 million.

We live in a world where bad people do bad things. We delude ourselves, though, when we confuse ugly words with nefarious deeds.

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