Dear Al Franken,
Your talk here at the ARCO Forum of Public Affairs last Wednesday, just before the Monica Lewinsky two-hour special interview, was very inspiring to me. So I thought I would go ahead and share with you some of my thoughts on Greaseman, a different kind of talk-show host from the big fat one you wrote about.
Recently, Mr. Franken, I've been very disturbed about three very violent acts of hatred we've seen in America. First there was Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old boy who was tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyo. and left to die because he was gay. Then there was James Byrd Jr. of Jasper, Texas, a man who was tied to a pick-up truck and dragged to his death because he was black. And now there is Billy Jack Gaither, a man from Sylacauga, Ala. who was clubbed to death with an ax handle and thrown onto a pyre of burning tires because he was gay.
When I think that next June I'll be entering a world, an America, in which the level of hatred responsible for these three deaths exists, well, I kind of don't want to graduate. With hope, though, at least our justice system will punish the killers (one of them has been convicted already). But what about the media, Al? No one seems to be taking care of us.
As you probably know, Greaseman, a Washington-based talk-show host, recently made a real strategic blunder. On his national radio show two weeks ago, which is pretty distasteful ("greasy") to begin with, he said this of black people after playing a clip from Lauryn Hill's 5-grammy winning album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill: "No wonder people drag them behind trucks."
Just seven words and-poof!-an incalculable amount of damage done. WARW, Greaseman's employer, quickly suspended Greaseman after he made this remark and has subsequently fired him. But there have been rumblings, as Greaseman makes his groveling rounds in such reputable are-nas as Nightline, that the radio man will soon be back on the air.
The Greaseman says (at least he told Ted Koppel so) that he doesn't know from where in the depths of his soul this awful comment came; he says he doesn't know if deep down there is a kernel of racism in him that he needs to find and deal with. At Mr. Koppel's prodding, Greaseman even said he would seek counseling (a suggestion he said basketball coach John Thompson made to him).
The truth is, though, that Greaseman seemed pretty disingenuous up there on T.V. And this is not the first time he has betrayed his inner demon on the air; in 1986 while working at WWDC he said this of Martin Luther King Day: "Kill four more and we can take a whole week off."
I think, Al, that Greaseman is truly sorry for what he said, just as station-managers and advertisers across the country must be very sorry, too, millions of dollars worth of sorry. But how can we deny the fact that to put Greaseman back on the air would be to endorse the kind of disgusting drivel which can lead, at its very worst, to the brutal murders of innocent people? Shepard and Gaither were not killed because of the color of their skin, but they suffered from ignorant hatred, too.
Alas, there is a great deal of money at stake in Greaseman's show; and I have even heard some commentators suggest that Greaseman's market value has increased as a result of this scandal. So the chances are that he will get his show back. "No laws were broken," we will hear, "and if we don't have free speech in this country, what do we have?"
True enough, Mr. Franken, true enough. But I think that as a society we still do not have to tolerate and promote utter and total garbage--which is exactly what Greaseman and his show are. Let Greaseman find a soapbox in Jasper, Texas from which to spout. Or let him seek counseling and try to beat his demons. Either way, the time has come to say: "Enough is enough; even the media has a shred of decency and self-respect." Yours Daniel. Daniel M. Suleiman '99 is a social studies concentrator in Leverett House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.
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