WE pride ourselves on purging the last vestiges of bigotry from American life. Marge Schott, the foul-mouthed owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, was fined and shamed for using words like "nigger" and "money-grubbing Jews." Official offense takers like Jesse Jackson (whose own record on bigotry is hardly pristine -- remember "Hymietown"?) and Al Sharpton (the charlatan who perpetrated the Tawana Brawley fraud) visited the team owners to demand that Schott be punished.
No tears for Marge Schott, who sounds like a poisonous old woman. But the hypocrisy this society tolerates in the matter of bigotry cannot be ignored.
There are, frankly, some groups it is OK to defame, and others it is not. You cannot say anything rude or insulting about blacks, women, gays, Hispanics or Jews. Anti-Asian bias, in the form of hostility to things Japanese, often slips by unpunished. But as for Catholics, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and most particularly, evangelical Christians, anything goes.
Exhibit A: A story appeared on the front page of the Washington Post on Feb. 1 concerning the enormous volume of calls, telegrams and letters that had flooded the White House and Capitol Hill on the gays-in-the-military issue.
Far from a legitimate expression of public sentiment, all of this was orchestrated by the religious right, the Post story maintained. Explaining the power of religious broadcasters, reporter Michael Weisskopf wrote, "The strength of fundamentalist leaders lies in their flocks. Corporations pay public relations firms millions of dollars to contrive the kind of grass-roots response that Falwell or Pat Robertson can galvanize in a televised sermon. Their followers are largely poor, uneducated and easy to command." (Emphasis mine.)
Ah yes, those yokels straight out of "Deliverance." It is quite simply inconceivable that any comparable statement about blacks (largely poor, uneducated and easy to command?) or Hispanics would have slipped onto the front page of the Washington Post unnoticed by the two or three editors who pass on everything that is printed.
The words, appearing in a straight reporting piece, not a "news analysis" or a column, practically drip with condescension and contempt.
The day the story appeared, the Post itself was treated to the kind of avalanche of calls and telegrams it had been describing. Joann Byrd, the Post's ombudsman, admitted that she had received a huge number of angry calls. "A lot of people said, 'I am not poor; here's how much money I make. I am not uneducated; here are the graduate degrees I hold. And I do my own thinking.' "
The Post ran a correction the next day, saying there was "no factual basis" for the statement. And Managing Editor Robert G. Kaiser, to his credit, said, "We really screwed up" by failing to catch and correct the "profoundly opinionated statement" before publication. "One of the sins we commit from time to time is insensitivity."
But in a story the following Saturday, Michael Weisskopf demonstrated that he, at least, was still blind to his own bias. He called the phrase "an honest mistake, not born of any prejudice or malice for the religious right." No, his wording was simply "overstated," he continued. He ought to have said "relatively" poor and uneducated. Gee, that would have made all the difference.
Mr. Weisskopf asserted that the views contained in the offending sentence (and it was not the only sentence in the article that received protest) had been voiced by a number of sources but not attributed to anyone because they are "universally accepted. You don't have to say, 'It's hot out, according to the weatherman.' "
I suppose everyone at the Washington Post simply knows that evangelicals are stupid sheep whose minds are controlled by a handful of slick TV preachers.
The truth is that liberals, the self-styled keepers of the flame of tolerance, are often shamelessly intolerant of conservative Christians. Participation by other groups in the political process is welcomed as enhancing "diversity," but the Christian contribution is scorned as ignorant.
Does it come down to this? That there is room in the tent of "diversity" for everyone except those who disagree with us?
Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.