The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Sunday, August 25, 2002  

Have We Lost Our Capacity For Outrage?

I’m sure it’s no surprise that I’m outraged and sickened by the antics recently encouraged by WNEW (102.7 FM, New York) radio dee-jerks “Opie and Anthony.”

The incident at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a church revered by Catholics and treasured by non-Catholics throughout America and indeed worldwide, is easily the most despicable episode of schlock-radio juvenilia about which I ever have heard. (However, I will concede that, not being even an rare listener of such programs, I’m sure I’ve missed dozens of examples of such stupidity over the last few decades.)

Opie and Anthony, known off the air as Greg Hughes and Anthony Cumia, respectively, have been shown the door by WNEW management as a result of the latest incident. This marks the second time these professional adolescents have lost their on-air posts, the previous termination of the team having occurred just four years ago in Boston.

Susan of Easy Bake Coven grasps much of my reaction to this lurid incident: “Haven’t these shock jocks around the country taken some things a little too far? When Howard Stern soared in popularity, everyone started imitating him and radio entertainment became shock for shock’s sake. When you stop to think, ‘What outrageous thing can I do today for ratings?’ Then you’ve gone way too far and totally lack originality.”

Yet there’s more to it than that.

The major media have covered heavily the stunt spurred on by Hughes and Cumia. Yet all too often the articles have been accompanied by the journalistic equivalent of a wink, a grin, a smirk, or a sneer.

In addition, the reaction of the editorial boards of the major newspapers to this outrage has been virtually uniform, and uniformly deafening, in its silence. And Viacom Inc., the parent of WNEW’s owner, Infinity Broadcasting, headed by Sumner Redstone, has yet to publish an apology, as best we can determine.

Prof. John T. McGreevy of Harvard University, writing in the Journal of American History five years ago (“Thinking on One’s Own: Catholicism in the American Intellectual Imagination, 1928-1960,” June 1997, pp. 97-131), succinctly outlined the hostility -- and that’s the only word for it -- of prominent American intellectuals toward Catholicism.

It is plainly self-evident, even more than 40 years after the end-point of McGreevy’s study of anti-Catholicism, that such sentiment is alive and well among the American intelligentsia. (“Intelligentsia” here refers to the editorial boards of major newspapers, not to Opie and Anthony.)

It’s still respectable -- still “cool” -- to mock Catholics. As far as I’m concerned, that says more about the mockers than the mocked.

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