Barely three weeks ago, Ethics Alarms offered this post, “The New York Times Refusing To Inform Its Readers What Meyers Leonard Was Suspended For Saying Is Far More Unethical Than Leonard Saying It.” Readers of the Times and many other news sources had revealed that the NBA’s Miami Heat center Meyers Leonard was in big trouble because he had used a word that was an ethnic slur so terrible that we couldn’t be told exactly what it was. This is censorship and journalism incompetence at its worse: without knowing the word, the story makes no sense. It is a central fact that the public must know in order to assess whether the outrage over the utterance and the eventual consequences were just.
Ethics Alarms had to inform readers that the word was “kike.” That’s not my job. Nonetheless, I have respect for the public, language, the duty of communication and free speech that the majority of American journalists do not.
Now, in an example of bad ethics deja vu, it’s happened again. Rather than do their job and tell the story, most of the news media is requiring the public to play “Wheel of Fortune,” and complete a phrase by guessing what a word is in order to understand why its utterance by a professional athlete is newsworthy.
Here was how USA Today reported the episode:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis apologized for a tweet he sent Sunday night that contained an anti-Asian slur. Davis said he confused the term for one he was intending to mean “lame” while trying to blame the media for the traction the tweet received.”I would never offend any group of people,” Davis, 24, wrote. “You reporters can look for another story to blow up. The term was directed towards a producer claiming he ‘ran Miami’ With that being said I’ll retire that word from my vocabulary giving the hard times our Asian family are enduring. According to ESPN, Davis wrote “Gotta stop letting (expletive) in Miami” in the tweet that has since been deleted. Anti-Asian attacks have increased recently as the COVID-19 pandemic continues into its second year.In response to the tweet, the Asian American Journalists Association Sports Task Force said in a statement that it “is disappointed by his sentiment, especially at a time when Asians in the United States are experiencing a sharp increase in anti-Asian hate which has resulted in harassment and attacks.”
Wait: what did he say? What was he referring to? I’m pretty good at word games, but this stumped me. At least ESPN provided some hints: ” “Gotta stop letting (expletive) in Miami.” Hmmmm. This is hard! What’s in Miami? Cubans? Can’t be that: this is an anti-Asian secret word. Sushi? Did Davis use the dreaded description of the pandemic virus that accurately describes its place of origin. as in “Wuhan virus”?
I went to Google News and tried to find a source that actually revealed the word. Even the conservative websites are intimidated: Glenn Beck’s “The Blaze” would only say that the word was “g****.” Now we’re getting somewhere! Goats? I looked further. An Indian source called RepublicWorld treated the media’s self-created mystery as the story, with the headline, “What Did Colin Davis Say?”…and still wouldn’t print the word! Ah, but it added another letter: “k”! Now we knew the word was “g**k*, and it took RepublicWorld four paragraphs to even reveal that.
OK, I’ll spill the censored beans. The Word That Must Not Be Revealed was gooks. Gooks. It’s a word that turns up in about 50 movies about the Vietnam war. (Davis claims that he didn’t know the word was an ethnic slur. Sure.) I had Vietnam war veteran room mates in both college and law school, and they used the term occasionally in private, not to describe Asians in general but to describe the enemy soldiers who were trying to kill them, and that they had been trained to kill. Yes, it’s a slur, no doubt about it. It’s also a word, and the Ethics Alarms position, first articulated way back in this post, is that it is unethical, not to mention stupid, to make any word taboo in the United States of America.
That eleven-year-old post was about an effort to ban “retarded,” and to only refer to it as “the r-word.” I wrote in part,
Word-banning is simply a micro-version of book-banning. It is an effort to ban unpopular, unfashionable, politically incorrect thoughts by removing the words to express them, and this is sinister, dangerous, and unacceptable….
I can think of lots of other unsavory, mean words that begin with an “r.” How about “raghead,” Ruskie,” “redneck,” and “redskin”? If “retarded” is banned (along with “retard”), can these be far behind? Then what…do we have to talk in terms of “r-word #1” and “r-word #2, 3, 4,and 5”? Do the Washington Redskins become the Washington R-word #5s? Does George C. Scott’s rant about the “Ruskies” in “Dr Stangelove” get bleeped out on television, or do we just ban the movie? What do we do about non-offensive uses of “retard” and “retarded,” as in “Brushing with Colgate retards plaque build-up”? Is that still using the “R-word”?
Mark my words, the same word-bullies who embrace this Orwellian website will try to argue that using “retard” to describe what flame-retardant treatments do is still offensive.
Every single word has a valid use.
Every single word can support or enhance or clarify an important thought.
Every single word can be part of an engrossing story.
“Huckleberry Finn,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” classics all, would be diminished without the use of the epithet “nigger,” for example. The history of race relations in the United States can’t be understood or discussed without using that word. Imagine how difficult it will be to discuss various historical and social issues when every group gets to condemn words they find demeaning, and they are promptly banned from the language by a conspiracy of websites [and] advocacy groups…Women will ban the c-word, the b-word (too bad for dog-breeders), and the d-word. Prostitutes will want to ban the w-word. Gays don’t like the h-word or the q-word (unless they use it themselves, much as the n-word isn’t the n-word if a black comedian uses it. ) Jesse Jackson has been trying to ban the n-word, and he probably is going to want to do the same with Harry Reid’s N-word, which is clear in print but will have to be called “the capital N-word” in speech or nobody will know which banned word isn’t being said. Jews will probably want the h-word and the k-word banned, probably the y-word too, just as Canadians will want to banish the c-word (actually, the c-word that is banned will already be on the feminist’s list, so this will have to be be the capital-C word) and the French will want to ban the f-word, except that they won’t be able to call it the f-word because the f-word means something else entirely, so I guess it will be the “f-r-word.” But what about when a French chef wants to make f-r-word-legs in garlic butter? Or when some crude individual says, “I don’t like your restaurant’s fucking froglegs!”? Will that become, after the… word-purge, “I don’t like your restaurant’s f-wording f-r-wordlegs!”? Just stop. STOP! Stop banning words and thoughts, ugly or otherwise. Teach people to be civil, to respect each other and to treat fellow Americans with kindness and tolerance, but let people express themselves as they choose, as long as they aren’t hurting anybody or doing any harm. And trying to control thoughts and speech by banning words, ideas, sentences, insults, poetry, jokes, opinions, stories, history, books, plays and movies is causing harm, and must not be be tolerated. Don’t tell me, or anyone else, what to think or say in private, and leave my vocabulary alone. I don’t trust the word police to stop at “retarded.” I don’t trust them to stop at all, because they are never satisfied until everyone thinks just like they do.
Did I see all this coming, or what?
And here’s an update: Ken Burns’ latest PBS documentary debuted last night. The topic is Ernest Hemingway. In one segment, we were told that one collection of stories was criticized because the writer used the rough language of the groups he was writing about, including, a “literary scholar” told us delicately, “the N-word.” The film then showed shots of Hemingway’s manuscripts. Black boxes had been inserted by Burns to cover all but the first letter of the words “nigger” and “niggers.” In past documentaries, Burns has shown horribly emaciated naked bodies of Holocaust victims with their genitals exposed as they were scooped into a common grave, but showing five letters on screen was just too horrible.
After all, seeing the pages that Ernest Hemingway wrote as he wrote them might damage the psyche of some PBS viewers, or worse, cause one of its woke, nascent totalitarian donors to withhold a check.