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.