City Life: A lesson learned from a bad word

August 16, 2010|By Steve Smith

Leonard Schneider made a successful career out of pointing out the contradictions in the use of our language. Schneider, who was white, often used the "N-word" in his stage act, and made people laugh while doing so. One of his routines was called "Any [N-word] here tonight?"

You know Schneider as Lenny Bruce.

By repeating forbidden words over and over again, Bruce believed that their power to hurt would disappear. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to give his theory a full test.

I doubt that Dr. Laura Schlessinger was channeling Bruce when she uttered the "N-word" on the air 11 times to one caller last week. In the context of the call, she was trying to make a point about the uneven use of the N-word and how it was acceptable in one context but not in another.


This was not a ploy to increase attention to the program; it was just a really bad idea, for there is not a racist bone in her body.

Schlessinger does not need me to tell her that what she did was wrong — she knew it the moment the call ended and penalized herself, big time.

There is irony in the fact that in its own attempt to win the 24/7 daily news ratings war, the mainstream media has continued to pile on Schlessinger, even after her instant on-the-air self-policing and a broad, sincere, and very public apology.

OK, so a radio talk show host said something provocative on their air. This is news? Is it worse for Schlessinger to repeat the N-word 11 times or for another talk show host to continue to fuel the debate that Barack Obama was not born in this country and therefore does not deserve to be president? Which does more long-term damage to the nation?

Schlessinger's call is already being forgotten, but millions of Americans will still have lingering doubts about whether our president really is a natural-born citizen, thanks to these ratings jockeys. Yet, no one is calling for the heads of these other, extremely divisive talk show hosts.

But that's not the real story here, which has been missed by the media.

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