WASHINGTON -- One of the most curious expenditures passed on to the American taxpayer is the federal government's subvention endowing National Public Radio. I had not fully realized what a weird and balmy land NPR was until I participated in a program that NPR recently reported on and then in a separate dithyramb commented on.
Prior to this experience, NPR inhabited that tiny spot on my radio band where, whilst driving through America, I could temporarily repair to the dignity of Beethoven's quartets, Mozart's symphonies and an occasional jolt of Twentieth Century classical music.
Usually the NPR station is associated with a university, which explains why after an interlude of music some ludicrous commentator invariably comes on to evaluate solemnly, say, the disposable baby diaper in the ongoing campaign for enlightenment that began just before the French Revolution. NPR continues where Voltaire left off.
NPR commentators always have a "To the Barricades" strenuosity about them. Then too there is always the sense that for them the New Deal is very much a going concern -- imperiled by Republican Know-Nothings -- but still essential if this Great Nation of Ours is to lift from squalor the workingman, no, make that the working woman, no, now it is the working homosexual.
At NPR, history marches on. The living spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt keeps turning up ever more victims of American meanness. It has been years since I was allowed entry into NPR's national headquarters on Washington's Massachusetts Avenue, but upon entering there today I would not be surprised to see banners demanding an immediate halt to the Vietnam War and amnesty for the Chicago Seven.
There is an otherworldly aspect to NPR's reportage and commentary, and that other world is variously goofball radicalism or Rolph, the Idiot Professor. Recently when NPR reported and then commented on that program that I participated in, the presiding voice was that of the Idiot Professor. To be specific the Idiot Professor was Professor Scott Simon, a regular commentator. The program was an evening of satire held in Washington's Monarch Hotel and produced by the wags at the Media Research Center, a conservative media watch dog that has taken on the easy task of monitoring liberal media bias.
Featuring Christopher Buckley, Jackie Mason, and lesser farceurs (for instance, me) it was a very amusing evening. Simon was not laughing nor can one imagine his laughing about anything. Moreover he was apparently not even at the program -- either that or his many erroneous statements were intentional. He was, however, in the lecturing mode of Idiot Professor. The theme inhering through his commentary was the media cliche that Clinton has been blessed by his critics, all of whom are mean-spirited, humorless dopes. The Media Research Center brought us together to kid about the Clinton Administration's departure, which perhaps explains why Prof. Simon ignored the famously funny jokes of Mason and misreported the other jokes.
Simon began his false commentary by saying the evening was "organized" by "Republicans." MRC is independent and conservative. He proceeded to state erroneously that "Robert Bork started the proceedings." He was not even on the program and naturally had no role in the proceedings. Possibly an NPR reporter interviewed Bork somewhere and he joked that Clinton should have been "hung upside down in a dungeon."
That fit in with Simon's theme that the evening was not funny and the jokes blood-curdling. Then the Prof quotes a very funny joke by Buckley and reprimands him for "trading in silly stereotypes about Southerners." The joke was not about Southerners; and what is this, an NPR pundit taking the side of the South? Is this creeping Ashcroftism? NPR better watch this guy Simon. It has already had its share of racial discrimination suits, gender discrimination suits, and sexual harassment actions. When you hire fanatics, you attract all this trouble.
Soon the Prof was charging Rep. Bob Barr with humorlessness or hypocrisy or lack of humility. Actually by now Simon's precise stream of thought had become murky, at times chaotic. All Barr had said to provoke him was, "May your disbarment succeed and your indictment proceed." In the Prof.'s unsteady mind, that set off visions of licentiousness and of some sort of historic victory by Clinton in escaping conviction on impeachment charges. Finally, the Prof. got to me.
After editing out perhaps 90 percent of my jokes about such choice subjects as Planned Parenthood, Jesse Jackson, and safe sex, he implied that I had made a racial joke. Actually my reference -- a reference of universal usage -- was about the human race, not any subcategory. Yet the NPR pundits are obsessives, and as the psychiatrists say, "What's true for you is true for you."
There is a serious point here. In alleging racial bigotry Simon unconscionably fans the fires of racial animosity. He gives comfort to racists and unnecessarily increases the fears of the victims of racism. He also misinforms his audience. Is he guilty of racial insensitivity? Not really, he is an idiot professor, something like an amusing drunk.