Compared to Schlessinger and Imus, Howard Stern is decidedly unsophisticated. Plain old-fashioned objectification of women on a 13-year-old's level plays an enormously big role in Stern's shtick. The main reason for mentioning Stern at all, is simply to emphasize that what's going on here is a form of market differentiation, where dominant group resentments over loss of imagined power are catered to in a wide variety of ways, each one tailored to a different set of tastes. Sterns are so crude that no one really bothers much to obscure or defend them. They are generally seen as simply boorish, and rarely recognized as political.
Of course, Stern most definitely is political. In "Why Howard Stern? Why Bother?"--a sidebar to a story we'll get to in a moment--FAIR highlighted Stern's role in electing two Republican governors, and their very public endorsements of him in return:
Stern uses his multi-media platform to discuss subjects that are often topical and political, and when he speaks, people listen: Stern's 1994 endorsement of George Pataki for governor of New York was noted as a key factor in the Republican's narrow defeat of Democratic incumbent Mario Cuomo (L.A. Times, 6/4/98).
As thanks for his constant political promotion of Pataki's candidacy, Stern and his wife were rewarded with seats on the dais as Pataki took his oath of office in Albany. When Stern threw himself a gala on-air birthday party in 1996, Pataki attended as an honored guest. "He's a good guy. He's funny," Pataki explained to reporters. Besides, he added, they both support capital punishment (Gannett News Service, 1/26/96).
The original book jacket for Pataki: An Autobiography carries only one blurb--a few spirited sentences written by Stern, including this comment: "If you spent 10 minutes in his presence, you'd know he should be the next president of the United States."
In 1993, Stern endorsed Republican Christine Todd Whitman for governor of New Jersey. After the comic jokingly insisted on-air that the governor make good on a campaign promise, Whitman named a rest area on Interstate 295 the "Howard Stern Rest Stop," complete with honorary mounted plaque (New York Times, 1/28/95).
Of course, it's completely hypocritical for moralizing Republican politicians to fawn over a media sleazeball like Stern, but that's just the background to the story that concerns us here. Just one day after the school shootings in Littleton, Colorado, the Rocky Mountain News (4/24/99) reported Stern's comments:
"There were some really good-looking girls running out with their hands over their heads. Did those kids try to have sex with any of the good-looking girls? They didn't even do that? At least if you're going to kill yourself and kill all the kids, why wouldn't you have some sex? If I was going to kill some people, I'd take them out with sex."
FAIR first drew attention to this in an Action Alert, Howard Stern Advocates Rape of Littleton Victims on April 28, noting that "Despite the fact that Stern is one of the most widely heard radio broadcasters in the country, his pro-rape comments have attracted surprisingly little attention; only two stories on his remarks appeared in the Nexis database as of April 27."
A follow-up story in the July/August issue of FAIR's magazine, Extra!, "I'd Take Them Out With Sex", Jennifer L. Pozner first cited a variety of media reactions:
- "From the
"Despite the hue and cry about Stern's lack of sensitivity to Littleton families, however, an extensive search of the Nexis database during this time period could find no member of the mainstream press who presented Stern's Columbine comments as what they were: advocacy of rape."
"....When he said, "If I was going to kill some people, I'd take them out with sex," his endorsement of sexual violence was stunning in its clarity.
"The news here is not that Stern 'crossed the line' or made 'one or two inappropriate comments,' as Bob Visotcky, manager of Denver radio station KXPK-FM, claimed in a pro forma apology on April 26. Offensive and disrespectful comments are the bread-and-butter of Stern's workday; he's based his multi-million-dollar career on an exceedingly crude, snide and insolent persona.
"What is news is that the 'shock jock' openly advocated rape on his show, and that he 'joked' about himself as a potential rapist. Stern matter-of-factly imagining himself sexually assaulting 'a bunch of good-looking girls' is not exactly the party line offered in many a mainstream account of off-the-air Howard, supposedly a 'really nice guy' who is respectful and loving toward women (e.g.,
Pozner goes on to highlight Stern's breathtaking performance of the obligatory NAB Hate Radio Olympics Denial:
"What is news is that instead of retracting his comments or apologizing for them, he blamed deejays and reporters for trying to use his words to get him off the air. 'I made a comment, and anybody who heard it knows that it was totally in context,' Stern insisted on his show shortly after his 'insensitive' remarks garnered some bad press. 'I was just looking for the motive in all of this, because I understand the criminal mind. If somebody goes out and rapes a woman and kills them for sexual pleasure or something like that, I can understand it. But this was just so senseless that I was trying to understand it.'
"So committing murder for the sake of murder is 'senseless,' but raping and then murdering someone is understandable? Yeah, this guy's hysterical. As for the 'context' Stern insists would clarify his good intentions, you be the judge: His pro-rape rant was prompted by a young male caller who described how he got off on watching Littleton girls run out of Columbine High with 'their boobs bouncing...turning me on.'"
That's the meaning of social power: the ability to define the context, and have your definition stick, no matter what. You define what's "funny," what's "racist," who's "a wuss," what's "news," what's "McCarthyism"--anything at all. And once you define it, that's it. In a plutocracy, what else do you expect?