Most people try to be especially compassionate in the event of tragedy. Most people.
Then there's Howard Stern, the sewer jockey who was at his vilest the morning after the Littleton, Colorado school massacre. I've read his remarks several times, and part of me can't believe he made them. But then I'm reminded who this man is and how obnoxious he can be when he puts his mind to it.
Referring to video footage of the terrified students fleeing Columbine High School, Stern commented, "There were some really good-looking girls running out with their hands over their heads. Did [Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold] try to have sex with any of the good-looking girls? They didn't even do that? At least if you're going to kill yourself and kill all the kids, why wouldn't you have some sex? If I was going to kill some people, I'd take them out with sex."
Stern's usual obsession with the creepiest aspects of vulgarity - porn stars, strippers, and the like - is appalling enough. This was inestimably worse. His "humor" manifests, albeit to a lesser degree, the same indifference to human life that led Harris and Klebold to kill and kill again.
Stern's outburst caused immediate outrage in Denver. Newspaper columnists Dusty Saunders and Joanne Ostrow sharply denounced Stern; Saunders called him "a foul-mouthed, unfeeling slob who has carved out a career based on his callous insensitivity." Both houses of the Colorado legislature passed a resolution condemning Stern's behavior.
When there's money to be made, however, some will put up with any kind of callous insensitivity. Bob Visotcky, the general manager of KXPK, Stern's Denver radio station, acknowledged that "Howard has definitely crossed the line in certain areas," but added, "We sincerely hope you do not judge Howard on one or two inappropriate comments." So Stern continues to broadcast his bile to the parents - and children - of Littleton.
Truth is, Stern issues a barrage of "inappropriate" comments on a regular basis, wherever he can. They're far more than "inappropriate," though. They're truly despicable.
-The day the Mexican-American singer Selena, who had been shot to death, was laid to rest, Stern played one of her songs while inserting the sound of gunfire, declaring, "Alvin and the Chipmunks have more soul. Spanish people have the worst taste in music."
-After the Federal Communications Commission fined him, Stern, regarding FCC commissioner Alfred Sikes, who had prostate cancer, stated, "I pray for his death."
-Of his competitor Don Imus, Stern said, "I wish [his lungs] would collapse every day of the week so that he'd stay alive and suffer trying to breathe."
-On April 26, the Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz reported that Stern and his on-air sidekicks, apropos of stories that Serbs were raping Albanian refugees, had discussed "the fleeing women's breast sizes and other physical features," with Stern saying, "Those Albanian women are hot" and "Look at this influx of hot chicks." Later in the same show, after it was mentioned that a Jewish charity had marked Holocaust Remembrance Day by giving $10,000 to Kosovar refugees, Stern quipped, "I'd like to donate an oven," and proceeded to joke further about gas chambers.
Such venom is not "irreverent," as pundits have described Stern. It is simply inhumane. So was the infamous prank call from a Stern fan to a Denver television station, alleging that Stern himself, angered by low ratings for his syndicated TV show, was the Columbine shooter. So was Stern's own prank call in 1982, in the wake of the tragic Air Florida crash that killed 78, when he asked how much a one-way ticket from Washington's National Airport to that city's 14th Street bridge, where the plane went down, would cost.
There's no doubting Stern's economic influence. Ostrow notes that KXPK has doubled its morning audience of men 18 and older since adding Stern last November. OK, then let's call a spade a spade: Those profiting from Stern are equally responsible for his actions. That means the fifty stations which carry his radio sewage. And the dozens of national companies that sponsor it. And the network, CBS, that produces his rot.