By generalizing about an entire ethnic group, the self-proclaimed King of All Media is turning himself into a joke, says Jay Woodruff

By Jay Woodruff
Updated October 01, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Credit: Howard Stern: Ethan Miller/Reuters/Newscom

Howard Stern’s anti-Arab rants are misguided

Crises have a way of bringing out the best in people. As well as the worst. Lately we’ve been seeing the best in David Letterman, whose generosity of spirit has uplifted an audience in desperate need of some uplift. And we’ve seen the worst in Howard Stern, who’s been using his show to foment fear and hate in a manner that Osama bin Laden might enjoy.

A big part of Stern’s appeal has always been that he couldn’t care less about ”decency,” and his unfiltered bluntness in the past often offered a bracing antidote to the sanctimonious blather of other talking heads. While other broadcasters were busy defending public morals, Stern delighted in describing his latest pubic impulses.

After September 11, the pundits began lining up to decry ”the end of irony,” ignoring that it was irony — horrible irony — that underscored the devastating impact of recent events: surprise attacks coming quite literally out of the blue, a perfect cloudless late summer sky; commercial passenger planes (bearing the names American and United, no less) transformed through an act of carefully orchestrated and sophisticated aggression into weapons of mass destruction by Middle Eastern fundamentalists who oppose the exportation of Western technology and culture. It’s not irony that’s become like fingernails on a chalkboard, but irreverence, and irreverence has always been Stern’s stock in trade.

Where Letterman has shown restraint and respect for the victims and a willingness to grapple with the complexities of the challenge now facing the country, Stern has been advocating the tried-and-untrue, knee-jerk, glass-them-over approach, replete with vivid descriptions of various ways we might all enjoy watching the public torture of Arabs. The country’s failure to respond with instantaneous and overpowering military force is due, says Stern, sounding a lot like Jerry Falwell, to the feminization of America, whereby good red-blooded American boys have been deprived of sufficient amounts of violent programming on TV and prevented from playing the manly sport of football, forced instead to play girly games like soccer.

This is a very peculiar argument to be making so soon after Columbine and the other school shootings. It wasn’t too long ago that we were all completely focused on the question of why our kids seemed to be killing one another at alarming rates, and Stern’s notions about the aggressiveness of today’s children aren’t supported by such studies as noted ”killologist” David Grossman’s book ”On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society.”

Yet of the many stupid opinions that Stern has lately been bellowing, none is more reckless than his use of the words Arab and Muslim as synonyms for terrorist. ”What’s all this peace and love crap? [Let’s] offer up someone from the Middle East.” At a time when violence against Arab-American and Muslim citizens has increased dramatically, Stern is essentially inciting his audience to commit hate crimes. On the spectrum of behaviors we’ve witnessed over these past couple of weeks, this places Stern a lot closer to the guys who flew the planes into the twin towers than to the rescuers who rushed into the inferno to save the life of some stranger, whatever that stranger’s color or creed.

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