October 30, 2005

"Juan, somebody needs to hose you down on this issue."

Brit Hume to Juan Williams just now on Fox News Sunday. Williams had just put strong anti-Bush spin on the Fitzgerald investigation. Whenever the two of them do a panel together, Hume gets pissed at Williams. And then William Kristol is usually there -- he was today -- and he never seems to get upset. He's always got that big beaming smile on his face, no matter what's happening. And then there's Mara Liasson, a stolid, solid presence. And good old Chris Wallace ("I've totally lost control of you guys today").

(I know Hume didn't mean it that way, but to say "hose you down" to a black man calls to mind images of police with firehoses. It's not a good metaphor.)

37 comments:

John Jenkins said...

It didn't to me. I thought the metaphor was "you're too hot about this and can't see clearly." Generation difference, I guess.

Ann Althouse said...

John: I understood that's what he meant, but it had an alternate image which should be avoided. And you are obliged to know the rudiments of American history. You can get yourself into trouble with metaphors, and there are some touchy subjects out there! Saying they are before your time is no excuse. I wouldn't use a metaphor that called slavery to mind gratuitously, and I'd be embarrassed if I did it accidentally ... though slavery was before my time.

Synova said...

I disagree, Ann.

Sure, there are words and phrases that are obviously racially loaded but what possible reason can be made that we're supposed to avoid all the normal, innocent, things we say every day by somehow twigging to the fact that someone within hearing might have heard that word or phrase used differently and chose to take offense?

It is not *useful* to put people into the possition of what amounts to walking on pins and needles to avoid accidentally saying the wrong thing. They resent it. They resent the people who make them do it.

What would you think, Ann, of overhearing a snippet of conversation that included "get rid of those cats and it would clean the place up right there." If someone expects to hear racism that's what they hear. Shouldn't it at least *matter* that the speaker was actually talking about *cats*? Shouldn't it?

I call my kids monkeys. I call other people's kids monkeys. I live in fear of forgetting and accidentally calling some black kids monkeys.

It doesn't make me racially sensitive... it makes me resentful.

John Jenkins said...

My point is that you automatically connected the two things whereas not everyone else would. One is not obligated to avoid terminology that other people might interpret differently than you intended.

I don't think slavery is even a good example; is a coach who is talking to his team after the game obligated not to say, "okay hit the showers," because he may (or does) have Jewish players and someone might draw inferences from the holocaust?

I don't think so. I think it is clear what the coach meant and intepreting it otherwise is intentionally mendacious and unfair to the speaker. The same applies in this instance as well.

Sissy Willis said...

You captured the personalities of the "Fox News All Stars" with perfect pitch, but re that hose metaphor, I think worrying about such things would amount to condescension. That Brit Hume refuses to handle Juan Williams with kid gloves shows me he considers him an intellectual equal, albeit a clueless liberal.

wildaboutharrie said...

I can't watch that show any more - too predictably partisan. Like some blog commenters, perhaps?

:-)

James d. said...

I didn't pick up on the racial metaphor part until Ann mentioned it, but I still thought it was odd phrasing. Who hoses people down for anything? Wouldn't that make him angrier?

Ann Althouse said...

I'm not being that harsh to Hume. I'm just saying it was an unfortunate metaphor (and he was expressing quite a bit of hostility!). I'm not out to pillory anyone who innocently invokes a bad image, but people in a language business like journalism ought to be in control of their imagery. One could, for example, make a sexual double entendre unwittingly. But you try to avoiid it! You don't just say what the hell, don't be so repressive. You try not to bumble into double entendres. This isn't a political correctness issue, you know. It's about the competent use of language -- by a person in the communications business! Frankly, if I said "someone needs to hose you down" to a black student in one little class, not on TV or anything, and completely unwittingly, I would feel bad about it for the rest of my life.

paulfrommpls said...

I'm with the people on this one, I think.

I work in a place where we are required to attend mandatory "racism training" workshops, during which people who - I'm being kind - are no more intelligent than me demand that I grant complete superiority to their views on race relations. Hence the word "training" as opposed to "discussion." If I don't, I am put on notice ahead of time, I am simply one more white person who will "fight like the devil" against the truth.

It's not morally insulting to me as a white person, it's intellectually insulting to me as someone with views.

Meaning in the intellectual context it actually is a moral issue. It's immoral argumentation to declare your views corect and morally superior, no questions asked.

So it's just one more version of what the left does everywhere.

The whole goal of race relations, I thought, was to put us on morally equal footing. As Synova implies, one function of racism training is to avoid that outcome.

In a sane world, if I were Brit Hume, I would be mildly and momentarily embarrassed at most; Juan Williams would chuckle about it and let it pass. That is the world we should be aiming for.

paulfrommpls said...

Hopefully that is what happened, in fact.

Wm said...

I get what you're saying, Ann. Especially this part:

This isn't a political correctness issue, you know. It's about the competent use of language -- by a person in the communications business!

It was a graceless thing to say. Like a gourmet chef using Velveeta when he needs to use some Tillamook cheddar or whatever.

(Note: I tried to come up with an appropriate sports metaphor, but all that came to mind involved a complex popped-up bunt scenario that still advances the baserunners, despite itself).

Synova said...

Since no one has mentioned it...

The only context I have for "hose you down" is that it is something done to amorous dogs. It's really rude, no doubt about that.

Charlie (Colorado) said...

Oh, jeeez, Ann. I'm a tad older than you, I just posted a day or two ago about some cretin putting minstral blackface on Lt Gov Steele, and calling him Sambo ... I remember Bull Connor and I've got to say, this one seems a bit of a stretch akin to complaining about someone saying "niggardly."

Andrew Seal said...

following up on what synova just said, it doesn't really matter what the context is or what the race of the person you're conversing with is, the phrase "somebody needs to hose you down" should not be used by one professional addressing another. It's dismissive, paternal and arrogant.

From the actual text of Williams's comments immediately preceding Hume, it appears that he may have been speaking passionately (the sentences are ill-formed and run together), but he was making a serious point, not just running his mouth. If Hume disagreed with him, he should have addressed the substance and not the passion of the remarks.

Ann Althouse said...

Let me remind everyone that my original post says "I know Hume didn't mean it that way." And let me underscore that Hume sounded too hostile. My first thought was that it was just too nasty. Even saying "settle down" to someone who's expressed himself passionately is aggravating, but "somebody needs to hose you down" is a major taunt -- even without the racial connection one could think of. Of course, in no way am I saying that Hume's dislike of Williams has to do with race. And I doubt that Williams thinks so either.

Jacques Cuze said...

Earlier today you told me that my writing on Libby was incomprehensible and too larded in sarcastic glop and insinuations. And that you weren't going to look into the details....

Juan Williams was speaking directly to this issue and you couched that as strong anti-Bush spin.

I encourage you to take the time to read this article by a journalist in this morning's Washington Post. It's comprehensible, well sourced, with no sarcastic glob nor insinuations:

A Leak, Then a Deluge
Did a Bush loyalist, trying to protect the case for war in Iraq, obstruct an investigation into who blew the cover of a covert CIA operative?

paulfrommpls said...

Basically, and I say this in the spirit of how easy it can be for even the best of us to buy into the busy-body, counterproductuve tendencies of PC: When you say you would be embarrassed about it for the rest of your life, I think it shows some inroads by that mindest into your own inner workings.

Ann Althouse said...

Paul: This sense of guilt isn't something caused by the PC movement. It is part of my own cultural background and moral thinking, going back to childhood.

John(classic) said...

I have to admit that I have always suspected that on the "confrontational" news discussion panels there is a meeting before the show not unlike what must occur before a professional wrestling bout.

" You get really demonstrative, I will make the 'hose down' crack, you get offended, Billy will smile and look a little pained and aloof and then Mara..."

Not scripted -- but outlined.

John(classic) said...

Wait! There are two "john"s on this discussion.

I am the real john. He is a clone, made by the evil Doctor to substitute for me and collect my lottery winnings. You can tell the difference between us because he makes fewer typos.

The software allows two "john"'s?

In that case, I am changing my name to "ann" and announcing my surprising real choice for Supreme Court.

Ann Althouse said...

John: I think when they let you register "John" you should have guessed.

paulfrommpls said...

Ann: So maybe I have it backwards. Maybe what you illustrate is someone imbued with the deeply moral concerns and perspectives that can give rise to meddlesome PC...

Sam Boogliodemus said...

"I understood that's what he meant, but it had an alternate image which should be avoided."

So do you think the word "niggardly" should be banned from the public lexicon? It seems that the 'alternate image' is developed between your own ears and not for Adam's trangressions.

Ann Althouse said...

Paul: What is meddlesome about holding oneself to a high standard of not offending others needlessly?

Steven Taylor said...

Ann,

For what it is worth, I had essentially the same reaction you did: that it came across as overly aggressive and the unintended racial element was most unfortunate.

paulfrommpls said...

Sam B

There's a difference; "niggardly" taken wrong is just a chowderhead misunderstanding a word. The hose image can be justifably taken the way Ann took it.

Ann: Taking this to absurd extremes, it could be seen as meddlesome with yourself to feel bad about it the rest of your life.

But more mundanely, if this kind of event erupted into a need for Brit Hume to apologize and so on, that's the kind of over-reactive meddlesome I have in mind. I wasn't saying you favor that; I'm saying I can see how someone (else) with your mindset might tend that way.

The game's over, I'll be gone soon...

Ann Althouse said...

Sam: The question isn't whether it should be banned, but which words a good communicator should use. I can't imagine thinking "niggardly" is a good word choice. It's a stupid choice simply because people are likely to mishear it and, even if they hear you right and know what the word means, they may think you are deliberately trying to aggravate them. And they might be right! I'd nevertheless be forgiving toward someone who did use the word, but, for example, if he asked me in advance to check the text of a speech he was about to make, I'd tell him not to use it.

paulfrommpls said...

How about the word "coon?" We have a local gossip-column journalist who once wrote a thing about how clearly, obviously, lecture-deservingly horrible it was for someone to use that word in reference to the animal.

I'm not totally sure I disagree that the word should be avoided, though it seems too bad to lose a nice colorful vernacular like that, especially since the derogatory meaning of it has nearly disappeared. Here in MN, anyway.

But I'm very sure I disagree with the tone of obvious high-flown condemnation the journalist adopted; and I'm sure that that offense is worse than whatever she was attacking.

mrbungle2103 said...

When Brit Hume treats Juan like a child I always take it to mean that he knows he can't win the argument with him. When Bill Kristol argues with Juan he asks him a question. That shows Kristol has some respect for Juan whereas Brit does not. Where Bill says "I think that's wrong and here's why.." Brit just calls him a liberal and tries to fill up time.

Of the four I find Kristol the most interesting to watch/listen to. He's articulate, persuasive and respectful. All of which Hume is not. If I were a producer I'd drop Hume like a stone - if only for the ridiculousness of having a Fox anchor as "guest." To me Fred Barnes, Mort Kondracke, and Paul Gigot are much better. Personally i'd make Hume's spot a rotating seat every week - wouldn't it be much more interesting to have Fred Kaplan, or Reuel Marc Gerecht, or Fareed Zakaria on? Or, heaven forbid, a foreign journalist.

Sloanasaurus said...

Don't forget that Williams plays the part of the reliable liberal on that panel. He has admitted to this role from time to time. Generally he does a good job of outliningg the liberal position.

I also did not pick up on the racial connection with the comment from Hume. I thought it was the more obvious put out the fire analogy.

This is the kind of stuff that the Bush/Miers crowd hates about intellectuals. They [the intellectuals] think too much about useless things and are willing to rationalize anything.

knoxgirl said...

I saw it, and the racial thing did not occur to me.

I did laugh out loud though--in amazement--because I couldn't believe Hume said it. It's something you can only say in that context if you have a congenial relationship. Brit and Juan obviously don't! My immediate reaction was that it was way too disrespectful.

Too Many Jims said...

I suspect that many of the folks who think Ann is "all wet" on this one also approved of GWB's use of the phrase "crusade."

In my eyes one of the most interesting words floating around is the word "cabal." It is a word with (to my ears at least) has an anti-semitic ring to it and it is being used to describe neoconservatives which includes many prominent people who are jewish and/or are very pro-Israel.

JBlog said...

(tongue firmly in cheek) Now, now, Ann is merely following the well-established creed of poltical correctness so firmly established on our nation's college campuses.

It doesn't matter what Hume meant by what he said. The only important this is that what he said might be construed by someone -- anyone -- somewhere as offensive.

I recall the incident were an officer at a minority organization was fired for using the word "niggardly," despite the fact that the word derives from Scandinavia and has no racial content whatsoever.

The point is it SOUNDED like it MIGHT be racial, and darn it that's enough right there to grease someone.

Remember, if someone THINKS what you said is offensive, it is.

Welcome to the United States of the Offended.

Ann Althouse said...

JBlog: Didn't your parents teach you that it isn't nice to hurt people's feelings? I'm not trying to get anyone fired. I'm saying that we, individually, can have high standards about having good relations with our fellow man.

knoxgirl said...

I thought about it some more, and I remembered that Juan can also make hot-head comments at times... it doesn't excuse what Brit said, but I think that accounts for why he does tend to talk down to Juan. Juan tends to be a spaz... It is especially obvious when he gets into it with Kristol, because Bill just sits there with that smile.

JBlog said...

Ann: I know -- I'm only teasing -- really more teasing the other commenters than you.

You're right -- personally, I would never want to hurt anyone's feelings with an offhand remark.

On the other hand, I feel like we have to guard every comment we make anymore or run the risk of being labeled "offensive."

Also, it doesn't seem like anyone's particularly interested in MY feelings. But then, I'm a middle-aged, white male professional, which means I'm the problem and therefore probably deserve it anyway.

Scorekeeper said...

Ann I like your SC coverage though I don't know if your left or right, assumed left.

Btw, I coincidentally read your article on Pajamas Media and just by fluke bumped into your blog yesterday on an unrelated search.
Sorry, I ripped Richard Silverstein at my site.

Anyway, I didn't think anything of the hose comment whatsoever? Generational?

I also didn't know what the hell that airline was getting sued for saying Eenie Meenie Miney Mo over the loudspeaker... I asked my dad how that was "racist"? Of course it wasn't the stewardesses had no clue either.... My dad explained it to me... but we used to do that in day camp when I was a kid and I NEVER heard of the racist implications of it. I'm an 80's guy go figure?