Girl, interrupted across party lines.
My last column, the one where I interviewed a forensic semanticist and argued that it is technically incorrect and culturally dangerous to use the phrase “have sex with” to report on the rape of children, caused a bit of a ruckus.
I heard from a pedophilia apologist or two (as expected), but I what I didn’t expect was the readers who swallowed the column wholesale as a missile in the ever-tense post-Obama battle of Republicans versus Democrats, of conservative versus liberal media.
To recap, I was watching local Fox 29 news at 10 when I heard the error—twice. I made a joke that I don’t watch Fox “for obvious reasons.” The cut part of that joke was: because television news is basically pointless.
In an attempt to airlift the semantic issue out of the context of one station, I wrote that I’ve even heard Oprah make the same mistake years ago—which is true—to demonstrate how omnipresent the problem is since, you know, Oprah is known as pretty liberal. Still, some readers just couldn’t get past it. Color me naive, but I was surprised that some people are so blindingly red-state/blue-state that they were more enraged by my television viewing habits than the fact that the rape of kids is so commonly misreported.
The red-said/blue-said mentality has become so volatile in the last few months that it seems almost every point made on any social issue is carved up along party lines. One minute someone is talking about something random and next thing you know it’s a political debate.
Personally, I’m more interested in the politics of gender and race in language, film, books, news, pop culture and trends than in dissecting Sean Hannity or obsessively tracking polls. But because I called out a Fox channel for something, I was scolded as “the liberal media,” which provided an interesting peephole into the party-line anger that is burning people up.
For pointing out that calling the rape of children “sex” is a perspective-skewing euphemism hidden in plain sight, I was called a typical liberal moron. I received a frightening and heart-breaking eight-minute voicemail from a reader who was enraged that I didn’t distinguish the local man who raped a boy from the men who gang-raped a girl as a “homosexual pedophile rapist,” versus, I guess, a regular or heterosexual pedophile rapist. What’s striking is that even though he was hip to the significance of word choice—enough to be pretty pissed—the rage that coursed through his more than 1,500-word tirade was over my dismissal of Fox, and not the erroneous reporting I called them out on.
I was lectured on how I, as The Liberal Media, shouldn’t be “so nit-picky on Fox” until I start “looking at how it’s black men who are committing crimes.” I was also lectured for wanting “a welfare state,” for doing “exactly what I blame the Republicans for doing,” and for my supposed support of “giving money to the people who don’t deserve anything.” In addition, the reader wanted me to know that there are studies that show that by 2012, 90 percent of African-American children will be on welfare at some point in their life because “people like [me] sit there and placate them.” And then he went on about Obama.
What? What’s Obama have to do with it?
I just want people, and especially reporters, to use the correct term “rape” when kids are raped. By Fox. By every channel. By every newspaper. And yes, by Oprah—though, to answer the reader’s question of why I didn’t write a column “railing against” Oprah, it’s because well, Oprah isn’t reporting the news.
The same reader called back and left another message. This time he told me he was pissed that I didn’t write about war protests, because, if I got this straight, I must believe there haven’t been war protests since Obama got elected. “I’m just trying to point that out, you know what I mean? Obama gets elected and we’re not at war anymore.”
I get that much. We’re all at war. All the time. Even more so than I could have imagined.
Unfortunately, the issue isn’t just that Fox News is a geyser blowing steaming piles of bullshit into our brains (though of course, it does). They’re not alone. I’ve heard Oprah say “had sex with” when she meant rape, for chrissakes.
Savage Love: Sondheim is solace