When a white broadcaster in Washington, D.C. told a joke about the dragging death of a black man, he was fired from his job. Doug Tracht, known as the “Greaseman,” then went on several local and even national programs to beg forgiveness and declare that he had seen the error of his ways. In the end, he didn’t get his job back. But when black film maker Spike Lee told a joke about shooting NRA President Charlton Heston, the outrage was muted. New York City radio host Steve Malzberg, who brought national attention to the incident, said that Spike Lee’s explanation of his remarks, that he was only kidding, “will be good enough for most of the media.” This is the media double standard at work.
Spike Lee has produced several films, including “Malcolm X” and “Do the Right Thing,” which deal with racial problems. But when he said that Heston ought to be shot, he went from exploiting racial controversy to advocating violence. He had made the comment at the Cannes film festival. After declaring that the NRA should be disbanded, he was asked what should be done with the NRA President. He replied, “Shoot him with a .44 caliber Bulldog,” a special kind of heavy duty pistol.
Malzberg commented, “The remark is bad enough, but given the recent school shootings and the climate they have created in this country, you might think Lee would be taken to task by someone, somewhere. Where’s the outrage over this?” Malzberg got the Washington Times newspaper to pay attention to this.
Congressman Dick Armey then saw them in the Times and, realizing that he hadn’t seen the remarks anywhere else, issued a statement calling on Lee to apologize to both the NRA and Heston. Armey called on the “liberal elites” in the media and elsewhere to condemn Lee’s “embrace of violence.” He added, “Spike Lee obviously has nothing to offer the debate on school violence except more violence and more hate.” Appearing on Malzberg’s show, Armey said, “Can you imagine what would have happened if Mr. Heston had said to shoot Spike Lee?”
Lee’s claim that he was only joking came when he made those remarks. “Here’s what happened,” he said. “I was at Cannes and someone asked me about the attacks on Hollywood after the school shootings, so I said I didn’t think TV shows or movies are the problem.” Lee said he identified the NRA as part of the problem because it was blocking gun control legislation. “So then they asked me, ‘What about Charlton Heston’ and I said, ‘Shoot him!’ But I immediately laughed and said, ‘It’s a joke.’” He explained, “It was an ironic joke about how violence begets violence.”
It’s difficult to see the joke in any of this. Spike Lee has a twisted sense of humor. In any case, claiming that it’s all a joke doesn’t seem to be a valid defense. After all, it didn’t save the Greaseman’s job. But the difference is that the Greaseman is white and Spike Lee is black. Another difference is that Spike Lee was hired to do recruitment commercials for the U.S. Navy by the Clinton Administration.