Double Standard

Thanks to Big Chown Dog for passing along a baffling exchange Wednesday on Boston’s WEEI. WEEI is, to the best of my knowledge, the number one sports talk radio station in the country. According to the 2006 book, Sports Talk Radio in America, it’s the only sports talk station in the top fifteen markets in the United States that is among the top ten radio stations in that market. Like all sports talk radio stations, its target demographic is men, ages 25-54 (though WEEI does very well among women in that age range as well), and the audience is mostly White. WEEI also serves up, even by the standards of sports talk radio stations, a healthy dose of resentment and some of the bigotry that is a frequent off-shoot of such resentment (one of its popular shows, Dennis and Callahan, got into hot water in 2003 when the two hosts compared a gorilla who escaped from a local zoo to an African-American high school student).

In this case, Big Chown Dog reports on the outrage over Billy Packer’s comments, which I referred to the other day, but didn’t spell out. In a conversation with Charlie Rose that aired on PBS last Friday, the night before the Final Four, Rose offered to Packer that he would come help Packer cover the final four if Packer wished. Apparently, Rose has made this promise to Packer before, because Packer was playfully dismissive of Rose’s offer. How Packer was dismissive is what’s caused some controversy. Packer told Rose: “youalways fag out on that one for me…”

Bill Simmons predicted earlier this week that we’d be hearing all about this, especially after Jimmy Kimmel aired a clip of this on his show Monday night. That has not come to pass, and the WEEI guys were apparently agitated by the non-reaction to the exchange. This is where things get odd: the WEEI crew wasn’t upset about the comments, it would appear. Instead, they were upset that there’s been so little reaction to it by the national “liberal elite” media. And, they have a novel theory for why there’s been so little reaction from that liberal elite media: that they’ve chosen to ignore the comments because Packer uttered them on that bastion of liberalism, PBS.

This is the very essence of the kind of resentment so prevalent on talk radio in general, including sports talk radio: inverting the realities of power in this country in a way that always confirms that the common sense, working white guy is on the bottom. Whether it’s the supposed coddling of the Black athlete (including guys like Stephon Marbury and OJ Mayo, each of whom grew up in utterly uncoddled circumstances) or, in this case, imagining that a liberal elite media out there essentially controls discourse in this country despite a six-year run in which a right-wing administration has lied about almost every conceivable important issue with only token resistance from that “liberal” media, it’s a standard of such discourse to view minorities and their defenders as the ones with all the power in America.

Now, normally, that liberal elite is accused of the sin of “political correctness” which is what makes this particular take on Packer’s comments so noteworthy – that same liberal elite is apparently more concerned about somehow protecting PBS than pressing its tireless agenda to enforce political correctness. Of course, why the liberal elite would fear a backlash against PBS because of a thoughtless comment by a CBS basketball announcer is not entirely clear. But, it’s a staple of the culture of talk radio resentment not to delve too deeply into the nuances of this liberal elite. That’s because the narrative of resentment works best at a level of generality sufficient to obscure how incoherent the underlying arguments really are (for a classic example, see Rush Limbaugh’s comments about why the media likes Donovan McNabb and the ridiculous claim that Limbaugh was making a “media” comment rather than a racial one).

According to the principle of Occam’s razor, whereby all things being equal the simplest solution tends to be the best one, there’s a pretty straightforward explanation for the relative indifference to Packer’s comments: namely that thoughtless homophobia is still alive and well in America in 2007 and only stirs controversy when it’s expressed in its most extreme and direct form (“I hate gay people.”) But, according to the active imaginations of the purveyors of talk radio resentment, it’s proof that a liberal elite has the power that the right has always ascribed to it and the fact that the same liberal elite that normally would make a ruckus about homophobia didn’t in this case – well, that’s a smoking gun.

Big Chown Dog notes that the WEEI discussion did consider a default position – that if the relative lack of attention to Packer’s comments wasn’t due to a liberal elite conspiracy to protect PBS from criticism (again, as opposed to the more obvious conclusion that thoughtless homophobia is still alive and well in America) – it must mean that no one is paying attention to PBS. And, if that’s true, well, then PBS shouldn’t exist. Just like Newt Gingrich argued for when the Republicans first took control of Congress back in 1995. Either way, of course, liberalism (as opposed to homophobia) is triumphant in the national indifference to Packer’s comments.



10 Responses to “Double Standard”

  1. Good stuff here J. The Starting Five is here to save the day! It’s a shame that some people just don’t get it. The shame is the comfort zone that they are allowed to work in every single day of their ignorant lives.

    I’ve never liked Packer. He speaks to one demographic–and what purpose does that serve for all of us?

    The Final Four is not Augusta National.

  2. okay, found the site. Will read and comment soon.

  3. Tracer Bullet Says:

    I often wonder about the mental gymnastics some people put themselves through to continue believing that liberals rule the world and that white Christians (especially white Christian men) are some sort of oppressed minority group. I like to think the people who say such things are just making a cynical ploy for money and fame because that allows me to believe that they at least recognize the truth but just chose to ignore it. The thought that educated people actually believe such drivel is real damn disturbing.

  4. Jim Kennedy Says:

    Disclosure: I, like Rose, have watched Packer since he played for Wake Forest in the early 60’s; like Rose, who is my classmate, but whom I barely know, knew Packer from the perspective of an admirable opponent. I have always liked Packer as a person, but believe he leans toward the supercilious in some of his broadcasting approach.

    I am also pretty sure that he has personally known Rose for much longer than either have publicly acknowledged. I believe them to be long-time friends who speak to one another in the familiar voice.

    When I heard the exchange, my reaction was blank. Packer may have said ‘fagged out,’ but I didn’t hear it. My mind simply substituted ‘wimped out’ or something similar. The reason: ‘fagged out’ has nothing to do with homophobia. It isn’t common terminology, but has something to do with the word ‘fagged,’ the short version of ‘fatigued.’ At some point it became synonymous with ‘wimped.’ Packer was using it in a sideways manner, not meaning it as ‘fatigued,’ but to mean ‘you’ll never do it, buddy.’

    So I think this is much ado about nothing.

  5. I watched the Rose/Packer interview and I missed it the first time. And then I watched a replay on the internet and I think Rose just missed it. This was a casual, off the cuff, homophobic remark that passed by with little notice.

    I agree with Jim Kennedy that there wasn’t any sort of acknowledgment or cover up. I think think they didn’t even realize what happened.

    However, I would disagree that this is much ado about nothing. I think it says something. I think it says that even enlightened liberal folks can be oblivious to homophobia. I think it says that homophobia is a subtle (or not so subtle) undercurrent of our culture that allows things like this to happen ubiquitously and invisibly.

    I think Rose didn’t catch it. I think maybe most viewers probably thought it was some weird usage of the verb “to fag” that only British people use, who knows.

    But what this whole episode says to me is that no one in our culture is immune to homophobia.

  6. Jim Kennedy Says:

    Oh, c’mon.

    Here’s urban slang dictionary on ‘fag out.’

    1. To bail on something, “pussy out”

    2.To act in an unexpected, negative way.

    1. We were going to go out, but Joe had to fag out and go to bed early.

    2. I would get alcohol from my brother, but he will just fag out and give a speech on being responsible again.
    tags bitch pussy bail fag out
    by Sean Ryan Ryan Sean St. Louis Feb 3, 2007 email it
    Send to a friend
    your email:
    their email:
    send me the word of the day (it’s free)

    2. fag out
    7 thumbs down

    (v.) To decide to take the worst result of any scenario.

    I wanted to testify to state my case because I feel I’m completely in the right, but my public defender decided to fag out and now i have to take 6 months of anger management and drug abuse classes at city hall.

  7. If you can’t see the inherent homophobia in those “slang” definitions, then we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  8. Jim Kennedy Says:

    That’s because there is none. This phrase was in use well before the 1950’s as slang from athletes who were complaining how exhausted they were from heavy-duty workouts. You think homosexuality was on their mind when they could hardly breathe? Its original source was ‘fatigue.’

    Similarly, would you see a racist source in the word ‘denigrate?’ It does not come from the n word, but from the Latin denigratus, meaning ‘to blacken.’

    I certainly don’t mean to beat this to death, but there is a generational thing here where the understanding of folks who grew up in the Fifties or before know the pre-slang meanings. My mother, who was a schoolteacher in the Thirties, always regretted the loss of the word ‘gay.’ She preferred its original meaning of ‘joyful.’ She, nevertheless, was unaware that ‘gay’ did have a sexual meaning to Victorians. That usage had to do with heterosexual adventuring, not sexual orientation. See Frank Harris’s use in his 1890’s ‘My Secret Life.’

    My concern here is just to counter knee-jerk reactions when none is called for. Packer was not using the phrase to denigrate anyone other than Rose, a friend and contemporary, in a jocular manner.

  9. Ken,

    The meaning of what Packer said was (due to context): To wimp out, to opt out because of fatigue or lack of strength.

    That definition of the verb “To fag” Has been in use since about 1530 (see the Oxford English Dictionary). The earliest use of the noun fag (or faggot) as a slanderous term for homosexual males comes from 1914.

    Therefore Jim Kennedy is right: The verb fag has nothing to do with homosexuals. It existed, in the way Packer used it, long before Americans decided to start calling gay people ‘fags’.

    From the Oxford English Dictionary (

    1. intr. To flag, droop, decline (lit. and fig.); to fall off, swerve from, into. Obs. exc. dial.
    1530 PALSGR. 543/1, I fagge from the trouthe (Lydgate): this terme is nat in our comen use.
    2. To do something that wearies one; to work hard; to labour, strain, toil.
    1772 F. BURNEY Early Diary Apr., All day I am fagging at business.
    3. trans. To make (one) fatigued; to tire, weary. Said of both persons and things.
    1826 SCOTT Jrnl. 9 Apr., I worked at..correcting manuscript, which fags me excessively.

    b. A (male) homosexual. slang (orig. and chiefly U.S.).
    1914 JACKSON & HELLYER Vocab. Criminal Slang 30 s.v. Drag, Example: ‘All the fagots (sissies) will be dressed in drag at the ball tonight.’

  10. okay, I was wrong. I apologize.


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