THE PRICE OF BARREL SCRAPING

Perhaps the most depressing media news of the month so far is that Paula Zahn, the woman who put psychics on her show as serious commentators, is rewarded by tripling her salary and moving to CNN. Somehow I think the worst of media hell is yet to come.

THE WAR AGAINST FREE SPEECH: Imagine if a black columnist had written a column about some stupid and overly elaborate funeral of some minor white television celebrity. Legitimate cultural criticism, no? It certainly wouldn’t prompt an outpouring of threats, protests, multiple hate-filled calls to the Post’s switchboard and over 2,000 angry emails to the columnist’s newspaper. Yet this is what has happened to Rod Dreher of the New York Post, who had the effrontery to write a pointed criticism of the extravagant funeral for a young black singer Aaliyah, who died recently in a plane crash. Read it for yourself. It may betray a certain ignorance of Aaliyah’s relevance in hip-hop subculture, but I can’t see anything even vaguely racist about it. Still, Al Sharpton unleashed his thugs, calling a press conference to denounce Dreher as a bigot. Dreher is now besieged, according to his friends and colleagues. He may have to work at home because of threats on his life at work. I’m told he’s growing a beard to disguise his appearance. One recent message on his voicemail went: “Look, white bitch, you’re not answering your phone, but you can’t hide forever. One of us is going to be waiting for you outside your building, and you’re gonna be thinking you’re going home, but we’re gonna step out and choke yo’ muthafuckin’ neck.” Now where are all the usual guardians of free speech defending Dreher and condemning this vile campaign of intimidation against him? Or are condemnations of people who threaten the lives of writers only appropriate if the target is a liberal? The New York Post, friendly hacks tell me, is apparently imposing public silence on Dreher so as not to stir up even more hostility. I emailed Rod for confirmation, but he referred me to the p.r. company handling this for the Post. This is chilling. Dreher’s column was innocuous enough – but even if it was not innocuous, he shouldn’t be frightened of walking on the streets without being attacked. The response of any other journalist should not be to acquiesce in this cowardly silence, but to speak up and out about this pathological hatred that is now so sadly accepted among some minority groups. This is a form of terrorism. It’s designed to intimidate journalists from doing their job. I’ve gotten death threats before – but nothing this terrifying. And the most terrifying thing of all is the silence of Dreher’s professional colleagues. Perhaps they don’t know yet what he’s going through. I hope they do now.

LETTERS: A Heche-free zone; what really happened to Chandra; the trouble with steroids; why some criticism of Israeli racism is legit; etc.

THE FORMER EASTERN BLOC VERSUS DURBAN: One heartening piece of news from the World Conference Against Racism and Stuff is the statement from the Non-Government Organizations from the former eastern bloc, including many Russian democrats. They knew the score, arguing that, “We must emphasize that the language of the chapter “Palestinians and Palestine” as well as the deliberate distortions made to the chapter “Anti-Semitism” is extremely intolerant, disrespectful and contrary to the very spirit of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.” Their post-script is priceless: “PS: On top of all the troubles of the NGO Forum, at the closing ceremony, the delegates had to listen for over two hours to a speech by Fidel Castro. We are offended by the fact that one of the worst dictators in the contemporary world, particularly notorious for gross violations of human rights, was invited to address this world gathering of non-governmental organizations. Listening to Fidel speak, we only had to wonder why the organizers had failed to invite Alexander Lukashenko, Turkmenbashi, Saddam Hussein, or a representative of the Taliban regime.” Amen.

TRUDEAU’S NON-APOLOGY: We all make mistakes. But someone’s character is best displayed in how they fess up to them. See what you think of Garry Trudeau’s attempt to respond to his own parlaying in a comic strip a hoax story about the allegedly low I.Q. of President Bush: “Many thoughtful readers, including those sampled above, have expressed an interest in the “Presidential IQ” story, an internet hoax which was portrayed as factual in a recent strip. This was a regrettable error, although perhaps inevitable, given that this feature uses the same fact-checking house as Saturday Night Live and The Drudge Report. Trudeau takes full responsibility, acknowledging the use of fictional material from an outside source instead of simply making it up as he usually does. The creator deeply apologizes for unsettling anyone who was under the impression that the President is, in fact, quite intelligent.” Graceless, in my book.

KKK UPDATE: The Washington Post and the Boston Globe have run fair retractions of their previous stories on the alleged hate crime. Good for them.