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Ashley Rindsberg Headshot

What the Media Really Killed

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Nuance is finally dead. The murder weapon: politically-motivated political correctness. The killer: still at large, but witnesses describe a big, bungling information industry, unsure of foot, appearing dazed by its own business model as it fled the scene. Authorities have named the media as a suspect.

The chimp cartoon thing has now seen more turns of the media cycle than the last dozen major breakthroughs in Darfur. Actually, that might not be true, since most of those dozen never saw the light of day but were instead buried in the boring crypts of between-the-page articles. The chimp thing now seems to be making a resurgence thanks, in no small part, to (surprise!) the New York Daily News, which has pressed nothing less than a mini-series of opinion pieces -- or opinion pieces wearing very small fig-leaves of news ("New York Post Offers Half-Hearted Apology...") -- against its major metro competitor.

In fact, all the usuals have come out in protest of the cartoon, including Rev. Al Sharpton and Spike Lee. But even these two astute cultural observers completely skipped over not just the nuance (which is understandable) but the possibility of nuance (which is not), and ran straight for the rallying cry of racism.

Let me explain. When I first saw the cartoon, I thought one thing and one thing only: "It's not that funny." Yeah, I get it, the stimulus was written by a monkey. Wonderful. It was only later that I thought -- okay, there is the Monkey (or 2 monkeys, or 10 monkeys) in the room typing on a keyboard and eventually creating Hamlet thing. That's got a bit of nuance -- a monkey sat in a room and typed and typed and eventually America got a stimulus bill. Interesting. (But still not funny.) Then I pieced together the lady in Connecticut who was attacked by a chimp. Disturbing, tasteless, not that funny.

It wasn't until I read the news about the news that any notion of connecting President Obama to that chimp occurred to me. But one reason it took so long for this now painfully obvious fact to hit me was another nuance, this one political: President Obama didn't write the stimulus bill, Congress did. This isn't just an issue of semantics. It was part of a behind-the-scenes deal which was one reason the stimulus actually got written and passed.

But no one's talking about that, mostly because every one is talking about a chimp -- and not just the cartoon chimp, but the other chimp, the real (dead) one, which is still making its gory rounds around the news cycle for some reason.

Did the New York Post's cartoonist intend to racially vilify the country's first African American president in a city where more than 2 million residents (i.e. newspaper readers) are black? Maybe. But it seems damn unlikely. Or did a newspaper screw up, fail to take into account possible perceptions, and then get clubbed by a few shrewd competitors who saw a good opportunity? With so much of the American media talking about monkeys, the world may never know.