Chris Cuomo and Sean Hannity v. the Little People

Chris Cuomo has finally succeeded in attracting public attention.  Cuomo was with his family in a bar on Shelter Island, New York, when a Dittohead stranger approached him and made the mistake of calling him “Fredo”—a not very imaginative nickname coined, apparently, by Rush Limbaugh.  Cuomo exploded:

“Punk-ass b-tches from the right call me Fredo. My name is Chris Cuomo. I’m an anchor on CNN. Fredo is from The Godfather.”

“They use it as an Italian aspersion.  Any of you Italian?” Cuomo continued. “It’s an insult to your fucking people. It’s like the N-word for us.”

Republican talk-radio listeners have responded with giggles and sarcasm, but Sean Hannity—true to form—has sent a message of support to his brother talking head.

“He’s out with his 9 year old daughter, and his wife, and this guy is being a jackass in front of his family.  Imho Chris Cuomo has zero to apologize for. He deserves the apology.”

Let us ‘unpack’, as they say in Philosophy -1 classes, the argument.  It rests on the so far unproved assumption that the ‘guy’ in question was deliberately being a jackass.  He claims he actually thought Cuomo’s name—or one of his names at least—was really Fredo.  It sounds ridiculous, but I once got the impression that Christopher Hitchens had a sister, on the strength of reading frequent references to ‘Christabel Hitchens’ in the American Spectator.  We are often stupid about things that do not interest us much.

Cuomo claims Fredo is an an ethnic slur on par with the N-word.  Funny, I thought it was a nickname for Alfredo on par with calling someone Al.  Here in the middle Midwest, I sometimes hear Eye-talians referred to as ‘Guido,’ a common Italian name of Germanic derivation once associated with the nobility.  How insulting would it be to use such a term?  Not much, I should guess, unless you are very sensitive about being labeled Italian.  Ronald Reagan did not object to being called ‘Dutch’—a nickname his father gave him because he looked like a fat little Dutch boy?  Well, you might say, Dutch wasn’t Dutch but Irish.  Then how about Mick?  Reagan, for all his faults, would have responded with an Irish joke.  That's how grownups respond.

When persons of color refer to me or mine as ‘whitey’ or ‘honkey,’ I assume it is partly out of envy and partly out of a desire to shift some of their self-loathing onto other, more successful groups.  What, after all, does the term imply?  Someone who works for a living, pays his taxes, and stays out of jail.  Gee, I’m like so embarrassed.

But let us suppose ‘the guy’ was really being a jackass, how big a jackass is it to call someone by a nickname bestowed by a hostile commentator. What would Adlai Stevenson have done, if someone addressed him, following Joe McCarthy, as ‘Alger’?  or Bill Clinton, if he were called ‘Slick Willie”?  Stevenson would probably have smiled and delivered a quip that put the kibitzer in his place. Clinton might have had him taken away by his body guards, but Cuomo, obviously a man not right in the head, erupted into obscenity and threats—in front of his family!

Then what is Hannity really thinking, when he says Cuomo is owed an apology?  It’s quite simple.  His thought process goes something like this:

Chris Cuomo is a TV celebrity like me, making lots of money for doing nothing except driveling  stupid comments about things he knows nothing about.  People like us should be treated with infinite respect, because we are celebrities.  If some piece of trash intrudes itself onto our visual or social horizon, it deserves to be sucked up by the vacuum cleaner and deposited into some place where it will never never never again think it can challenge our celebrityhood by treating us as just another guy.

If Hannity's entire audience could understand what his attitude really is, would one of them quit listening?  Probably not.  They know their place.


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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

15 Responses

  1. James D. says:

    Cuomo is probably a little edgy as a result of having to constantly support new ludicrous things like gay marriage, transgender rights, etc. in order to stay in the good graces of the revolutionary Left. Apparently, he pretends to be a Catholic, like his father did. Its got to wear on you when you wake up every morning and your handlers tell you that you have to stick your neck out again for some expanded form of deviancy. “I have to say ‘what’ on air? Hasn’t this gone a little too far?” Also, I have a feeling that if tv celebs were tested, like athletes, for performance enhancing drugs, Cuomo might have to serve an 80-game suspension.

  2. Irv Phillips says:

    Dr. Fleming, I would say that most Italians would consider guido very slightly offensive, perhaps somewhere between a dago and a goombah. I can’t say it particularly bothers me, though, so knock yourself out. The incident you describe, which I would not otherwise have heard of, so thanks, reminds me of  what my dad, of Neapolitan descent, called Mario Cuomo after his brilliant speech at the Democratic National Convention of 1984: a “guinea wop bastard.” People can be so sensitive.

  3. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I. Phillips, I don’t think I know a single Italian who would understand “Guido” as a slur, much less take offense. The Italians I know are somewhat condescending toward Americans whom they regard as culturally and aesthetically retarded, people who grow fat on frozen pizza and Chicago dogs, while listening to Katie Perry. Guido is just a name, like Mario, Marco, Luciano.

    If you are referring to Americans of Eyetalian descent, who cannot read, write, nor speak Italian, who visit Italy on a tour perhaps once in a lifetime, and talk forever about their nonna’s spaghetti, those who get offended by Guido are like Irish Americans who get offended by Mick. It is their way of cashing in on an imaginary ethnic status, a heritage of discrimination, blah blah blah. I have Mick relatives like that–fourth generation in the US! I wonder if Jefferson, partly Welsh, ever boo-hooed about poor Taffies–“Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief…” The first Rutledge was from Northern Ireland, so he could have beaten his breast about hostility toward the Irish generically or Ulstermen in particular.

    It’s a disease for which one must seek healing. In your case, Phillips, you know my advice has always been to learn Italian. When I first met my friend the Great Bukoski, he gave Billy Mills and me the long sad story of anti-Polak defamation, climaxing with his tale of finding, at a rest stop somewhere, a souvenir: The Polish Outhouse–two-seater model. One toilet was stacked upon another. “You know how that made me feel?” We told him no, we didn’t, but it made us feel like laughing. We proceeded to unload all the Polack jokes we knew. When he complained about the term Polack, I asked how you say Pole in Polish? “Yeah yeah, but that’s irrelevant.” It’s a bit like blacks who use the N-word a thousand times a day but want to sue anyone else who imitates their usage.

    Time for Wops, Micks, Spicks, Hunkies, Chinks, Nips to grow up. If they were actually proud of their heritage, these terms would not be offensive, and, if someone used a genuinely offensive term with the intention of giving offense, smile, tell him no hard feelings, start to walk away, and give him the knee in the groin and the fist in the eye.

  4. James D. says:

    My father-in-law is Polish and he loves to collect Polish jokes. Any time I hear a new one, I make sure to lay it on him the next time I see him. His favorite is: “What did Jesus say to the Polacks? Shhh…. Play dumb until I get back.”

  5. Raymond Olson says:

    Here in the Great White North, the ethnic jokes I heard most often were about my ethnicities–Swedish, Scottish–and I first heard them from my mother, who greatly appreciated a good joke. Of course, they lacked the salt of the ones I heard later. Early and innocuous or later and scrabrous, they were ethnically interchangeable. The butt of a joke could be either Norse, Danish, or Swedish. James D.’s Polish joke could have been a Swede yoke, you betcha. (The Scottish jokes were all about how tight Scots were.)

  6. Allen Wilson says:

    Hunkies? Well, I’ve learned a new one.

    I learned what a wog was by watching old British comedies. I don’t think most Americans know that one.

  7. Ken Rosenberger says:

    Westernized Oriental Gentleman, isn’t it? And doesn’t the proud Englishman say “the wogs start in Calais”?

    I also like the term “harp,” originally derisive, later embraced by the targeted Irish. I think it was Walker Percy who wrote of the phenomenon whereby epithets are eventually adopted by those they are meant to demean. It seems that world is just about gone now.

  8. Harry Colin says:

    I proudly claim the term “Hunky” as a Croatian-American on my mother’s side. Hunkydom is comprised of all Slavs, as well as Hungarians and Lithuanians, and is still quite commonly used in that stretch of land between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The term is associated with how these immigrants were viewed by the steel mills and mining companies that recruited huge swathes of workers from those lands. That history is a fascinating one for many reasons and deserves separate attention.

    As the years go by and our extended family gets further deracinated, few folks still use the Serbo-Croatian word “sarma” to describe pigs-in-the-blanket, but most of us still refer to that food as “Hunky hand grenades.”

  9. James D. says:

    Mr. Colin,

    I reside in that land between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The term “hunky” is common around here, though I didn’t know that Lithuanians were considered hunkys. As a quarter Lith, I guess that makes me a quarter hunky. The joke from the bosses during steel and coal mining past of the region was that hunkys had a “strong back, but a weak mind.” I would say that a pretty sizable percentage of the population of the region you describe is composed of people with some hunky ancestry.

  10. Harry Colin says:

    I live in that region, also, James. A good friend of mine – Polish-Lithuanian, by the way – introduced me to some books and studies years ago that described the recruiting practices back during the peak of the huge steel plants. These peoples were considered less than fully white and thus more appropriate to work in the conditions of the time. Serbians were particularly viewed as better able to withstand the fierce heat of the open hearth furnaces in the steel mills, which explains their large concentration in towns with open hearth furnaces.

  11. Irv Phillips says:

    Ken, I heard it was Wily Oriental Gentleman? 

    Earlier this year I was watching a baseball game on TV. When there was a “break in the action” the local sports network switched to one of its sportscasters who introduced a brief bit of video from another game: a fan in an athletic shirt (a/k/a “A-shirt”, old-school t-shirt or “wife-beater”) making an acrobatic catch of a foul ball. The sportscaster blurted out “look at the guy in a dago tee.” I thought to myself, “hmm… can we (sic) say that today?” Sure enough, during the next game’s broadcast, our young cute tv personality abjectly, cravenly apologized for her “inappropriate words.” She didn’t get fired, of course. At least she didn’t say pickaninny.

    The gulags are just now being built….

    Dr. Fleming, yes, you did, thank you, advise that I begin learning Italian. In fact, I did buy the book you suggested. Of course, it sits on my shelf. Unfortunately, Italian is now second in my language learning queue, behind Python. Ironically, though I am unabashedly a geek with two engineering degrees to show for it, I did much better with Spanish than computer programming. Perhaps that was the clue I failed to notice when I was sixteen? I know, I know, I’m not dead yet.

  12. Allen Wilson says:

    Anyone familiar with Major Gowan’s tale about his trip overseas on the Fawlty Towers episode “The Germans”? I hear it’s been censored in later years.

    I’ve always liked “Frog”. I used to know a couple little pestering kids from Louisiana who had just enough French ancestry to supply nicknames for them. I called the girl ‘Froggie’ and the boy, based on what Cajuns allegedly used to bait gators, was ‘Gatorbait’.

  13. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Mr. Rosenberger- I suggest that we should all embrace being called racist at every turn. The term is already losing its power.

  14. Ken Rosenberger says:

    To paraphrase Percy again, he wrote on a number of occasions, in fiction and non-fiction, about words being used so much, they didn’t signify anymore. They were evacuated of meaning. Racist is probably the prime example. What does that mean anymore, when you hear someone (maybe yourself) called racist? Crazy Joe Biden and Quentin Tarantino were both in the last month dismissed as racist by their erstwhile “friends.” Nowadays, it apparently means you’re white.

    Conservative is the second term that comes to mind. What bland imagery does that term conjure up these days. Ah, for the time when conservative was almost synonymous with reactionary.

  15. James D. says:

    When I hear the term “conservative,” I think of George Will, Michael Steele, and George P. Bush.