'Why won't you defend Ann Coulter?"
I've heard that several times in the wake of her latest faux pas. Yes, I wrote a book about the perils of political correctness, but that doesn't mean I'm for giving a free pass to every celebrity who says something boneheaded. Especially when that list grows daily.
For guidance, I've decided to unveil the Muzzle Meter. It's my measuring stick for evaluating speech with possible PC implications. A high score indicates speech that really is offensive, no matter PC, and a low score means "Get over it." Like golf, low scores are optimal. A "10" means the person needs to be muzzled; a "0" means no harm, no foul.
My criteria are gut-based. There's no science here. As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said about pornography: "I know it when I see it... "
Mel Gibson. The gold standard for those needing to be muzzled. I mean, when I tie one on, I say stupid things. And when I was younger, they were usually at closing time, and sounded something like "I lub you longtime." But no rational person gets tanked and says: "F-ing Jews... . The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." The man has issues, particularly considering that his blood-alcohol level was a measly 0.12. That's too high to be operating heavy machinery, but insufficient to transform someone into an anti-Semite. Muzzle Meter: 10.
Michael Richards. He was funnier as Kramer wearing the pimp jacket, or saying things like "these pretzels are making me thirsty." Now it's "He's a nigger! He's a nigger!" Too bad he didn't initiate a serious conversation about black comics such as Chris Rock who uses the n-word as part of their act. That would have been un-PC, but worthwhile. Instead, he's just Mel Gibson doing stand-up. Muzzle Meter: 10.
Tim Hardaway. The former Miami Heat guard said he wouldn't have wanted a gay player on his team. That's a bigoted, but presumably defensible view. But this statement wasn't defensible: "You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people, and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."
Give him points for not spinning, but send him to the showers. This is self-defined hate speech, not social commentary. Muzzle Meter: 10.
Ann Coulter. She thinks she's part of the very type of serious debate she extinguishes. Criticizing the views of those who enter the political fray is fair, but it was outrageous for her to say, about the wives of certain 9/11 victims, that she'd "never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much." Now she's blown it again. She essentially called John Edwards a "faggot," presumably to make a joke about the TV star who entered rehab after a similar line. Coulter's not funny, and her comments don't inspire legitimate discussion. She's become a caricature of herself. Muzzle Meter: 9.
Isaiah Washington. He is that star from Grey's Anatomy who called colleague T.R. Knight a "faggot" during an on-set altercation, perhaps causing the outing of Knight, and then went out of his way to repeat himself at the Golden Globe awards while denying he ever used the word. Think Coulter without the hemline. Muzzle Meter: 9.
Bill Maher. On Real Time, he said that fewer people would be dead if the assassination attempt on Dick Cheney had been successful: "I'm just saying if he did die, other people, more people would live. That's a fact."
Maher is a funny guy who often proves there's truth in jest. But while it is OK for Americans to criticize Cheney and the war, it's out of bounds to wish him dead. Maher says he didn't. I think his words said otherwise. Muzzle Meter: 5.
Barack Obama and John McCain. Obama: "We ended up launching a war that should have never been authorized, and should never been waged, and on which we have now spent $400 billion, and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted."
McCain: "Americans are very frustrated, and they have every right to be. We've wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives."
If the basis for invading Iraq was unfounded, what are we to make of the loss of American life? That's a fair question. Wasted was, however, a poor word choice. Muzzle Meter: Obama 2, McCain 0. If anyone can say it, it's this former POW.
John Kerry. The comment that cost him another run at the presidency was just a poor attempt at humor by a politician so unfunny he couldn't get a laugh when he was a guest on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart: "You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
This was a dig at the president, not at the troops. Muzzle Meter: 2.
Joe Biden. Speaking of Obama, Senator Joe said: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."
He was complimenting Obama. How sad we've reached a point where one must apologize for such an obvious accolade. Muzzle Meter: 0.
Follow Michael Smerconish on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@smerconish