Big News or Bad Judgment?

There are a lot of ways to coarsen a society. Some of them are small, some large; taken together, they transform civility to vulgarity, courtesy to disrespect, rationality to raucousness.

These days, nobody coarsens the way journalists coarsen. In their stories for newspapers and magazines and in their reports and interviews for TV news programs, they confuse fame with notoriety and promote untalented louts to stardom. They glorify the irrelevant and trivialize the meaningful. And, yes, on all-news cable, they all too often distort the issues and yell instead of talk and interrupt instead of listen.

There is plenty of blame to go around. This column, however, points a finger at the current issue of Newsweek (search).

No, not because of the cover. My first reaction on seeing it was that the gay lovers were models. They were not. Several people, thinking the same thing, wrote to me to complain. They said that by choosing such physically appealing people to illustrate a story on the prospects of gay marriage (search), the magazine was demonstrating an editorial position in favor of homosexuality. Perhaps.

But then we are left with the corollary: Newsweek should have chosen physically unappealing people to demonstrate an editorial position against homosexuality.

In fact, the magazine should have done neither; editorial positions are for editorials, not news stories. The magazine cannot be faulted for illustrating a story about gay marriage with photos of gay people who, as it turns out, would like very much to be married.

No, the problem I have with the current issue of Newsweek resides on page 55, where the magazine chose to highlight — that is to say, to emphasize in big, black typeface — the following quote from rapper and MTV (search) comedy show host Snoop Dogg (search): “I guess I’m just a likable motherf--er.”

The quote appears a second time, in conventional typeface, on page 54.

The questions spring up like weeds after a downpour: Why should a news magazine do a story about Snoop Dogg in the first place?

Well, OK, given the priorities of the culture today, Snoop Dogg is news to a good number of people.

Why should a news magazine devote two entire pages to the guy? After all, the same issue of Newsweek squeezed its obituaries of Strom Thurmond (search), Lester Maddox (search) and Maynard Jackson (search) onto but a single page.

Well, OK again. Given those cultural priorities, Snoop Dogg is more interesting to a lot of people than the three decedents, especially younger people, members of that most pointlessly sainted of American demographic groups.

Why should a news magazine highlight the quote cited above? And why be so explicit in the use of the quote’s most offensive word as to include all but three of its letters?

For this question there is no answer — none, at least, that redounds to Newsweek’s credit.

It is true that young children do not read news magazines and that older children and adults are familiar with the term, but certainly the Newsweek editors realize that the majority of its readers, no matter how many times they have heard and seen the word, find it repugnant and do not want to have it boldface-typed into their faces as they thumb through the pages of a periodical that is supposed to be reporting on and analyzing the major stories of the week.

The fact that a rap star thinks of himself as a “likable motherf--er” is not a major story.

Was Newsweek trying to be cool? It was merely offensive. Was it trying to demonstrate a cutting-edge cultural sensitivity? It demonstrated a lack of judgment.

So go ahead, Newsweek; if you have to do a story on Snoop Dogg, do it. If he calls himself a likable so-and-so, print it. But do not call it to the attention of your readers as if you are proud of having elicited the statement. Do not put it in boldface type.

If you do, you’re even more guilty of coarsening society than he is.

Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch, which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT.

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