Kathryn Lopez

The fall -- and, specifically, the 2008 election season -- cannot continue a moment longer without reflecting on incest and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. No, I'm not accusing him of that heinous crime. He has enough evil to his name. But more about him in a moment.

What has me shaken is that I recently laughed at a joke about incest. It was one of those cultural indicators that made me realize with a jolt just how far we've fallen. The joke, in case you have already blocked it out, occurred on the second episode of the new season of "Saturday Night Live." During a skit that portrayed a pointedly liberal and clueless staff of reporters from The New York Times readying themselves to cover Alaska and its governor, Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, one of the cast members makes use of a certain pernicious backwoods stereotype in reference to Palin's husband and his relationship with their daughters.

And since I have suffered through some of the more despicable posts on the Internet about Palin and her family -- which supposedly reputable reporters have taken seriously -- the joke seemed less outrageously offensive and more a ridiculous amplification of prevailing winds. (All of this stems from murky and outrageous rumors regarding the circumstances surrounding Palin's infant son and her pregnant teenage daughter.) Never mind laughing about this stuff, I actually felt relieved that a nonconservative entity -- some writer for a typically liberal sketch show -- also saw how absurdly offensive to common decency some of the media coverage of Palin has been.

But it's no wonder I'm developing an immunity to evil. Did you notice who CNN thought would make a fine interviewer for President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who wants death to Israel and America, and announced this year in a speech before the United Nations that Israel is a "cesspool" and the Great Satan languishes in her last days?

CNN awarded this terrorist sympathizer a softball conversation with Larry King, usually seen wasting perfectly good cable time nightly with gossipy, frequently whiny celebrity interviews. It would be laughable if it weren't so serious -- if our nation wasn't at war, and all.

And the interview proved to be the joke anyone with a passing knowledge of King's show could have predicted it would be. Larry asked Ahmadinejad what he thought of Palin. After all, as King went out of his way to remind us, Palin and King's distinguished guest were both former mayors.

Perhaps somewhere a CNN producer regrets he does not make programming decisions at "Entertainment Tonight." Mary Hart could do a fascinating interview with this enigmatic Iranian celebrity and ask him what he thinks of the People cover story about Clay Aiken's sexuality. Perhaps that cute, adorable Mahmoud, the one who wants to eliminate Jews, can tell us Aiken would turn straight if he moved to Iran. You'll recall when Columbia University hosted a discussion with this tyrant, he was asked why homosexuals are executed in his country. Rather than answer the question, he denied the existence of any gay people in his homeland. "In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you that we have it." (He only recently stated that there might be "a few" homosexuals in his country.)

It's as if, instead of dealing with awful things, shining a light on them and doing what we can to combat and right wrongs, we yearn to abandon all attempts at seriousness. As we all debated whether or not there should be a debate over the first scheduled presidential debate, how many news outlets focused on the fact that Ahmadinejad blamed the whole thing on the Jews? They are a people with a "deceitful, complex and furtive manner" who have a hold on Western leaders, he said, in front of diplomats from 190 U.N. member states. It was an outrage -- an outrage of which King seemed to have no clue. An outrage most of us have yet to fathom. An outrage much of the media didn't cover.

Incest should not be a laughing matter. Ahmadinejad should not be wined and dined in the Big Apple, and his hateful views -- reminiscent of the horrifying Protocol of the Elders of Zion "blood libel" against Jews -- are not opportunities for discussion.

We must stop and consider this moment. And we must always notice who's taking things seriously and who's whistling past the graveyard. Americans believe in common decency and constant vigilance. If our leaders don't -- whether they be media moguls who book cartoonish interviews and write outlandish things, or politicians who would have gotten in line to sit down right after Larry -- we must take notes and insist on new ones.


Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.