Tuesday, March 25, 2008

In the day when you couldn't find information

Gather around, children. I have a story to tell about a time when it was difficult to get information.

In 1976, then Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz told an untoward racist joke. Not that this makes him unusual. But he was unfortunate enough to tell the joke in the presence of the priggish 1950s white heart-throb Pat Boone and the equally priggish John Dean.

The story leaked out, Time magazine reported it, not revealing the actual joker, but citing him (they were almost always "him" in those days) and obscuring the vulgarity of the humor. A hard-working reporter at New Times magazine did some searching -- not easy in 1976 -- and found the cabinet secretaries itineraries, and revealed Butz as the teller.

What intrigued me then was what exactly was the joke. And no one would say it. No one would print the actual text of the joke that led to a cabinet secretary's resignation.

The joke was stupid, vulgar, and racist. And honestly not even that funny. But I think that the American people had a right to know what was the nature of it. I still do. And I'm glad that the gatekeepers who protected our delicate ears in 1976 are gone. The internet has destroyed that possibility.

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