01/20/2006 10:19 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

George Clooney Should Apologize

I admire George Clooney, who's had an interesting career and seems determined to make some intelligent movies. Good for him. But I was surprised by his vulgar insult of corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff the other night at the Golden Globe awards.

"Who would name their kid Jack with the last words 'off' at the end of your last name?" Clooney said. "No wonder that guy is screwed up."

There's lots of good reasons to slam Abramoff, but making fun of his name is childish, and the fact that the room responded with laughter shows how easily supposedly mature adults can revert to schoolyard behavior, especially when it comes from someone as "cool" as George Clooney.

Jack Abramoff's father, Frank, agrees with me; he tells the Palm Springs Desert News that Clooney is an "idiot" and his words were "pure, unadulterated stupidity."

Jack Abramoff was named after his grandfather, Frank says. "We've gone through quite a bit in our family. But the political end of it and the media end of it and all the other areas are one thing. When you see something like that on a show for 500 million people, it was not only a slap in my son's face but in my father's."

All of which is a way of saying that even rogues like Jack Abramoff, when they are faulted, should be faulted on civilized terms, not by making vulgar jokes about their names and masturbation. I know: Such an appeal for manners and restraint is unlikely to succeed given the tenor of our popular culture--NBC didn't even bother to bleep out Clooney's remarks--but still... Clooney is generally an elegant man, and he should know better. In the end, such insults not only debase those who make them, they lower the decency level of our culture.

George's father, Nick Clooney, a former candidate for Congress, certainly seems to think so. "I understand what it is like to have one's son criticized in a very public way," Clooney told the Desert News. "It's very painful and it's very difficult."

George Clooney's rep predictably declined to comment on Frank Abramoff's words. I think that's cowardly; you use a podium seen by hundreds of millions to take a cheap shot at a man, and then you decline comment later.

Jack Abramoff is far from the world's most ethical man. Nonetheless, George Clooney owes him an apology.