Letters to the editor

The meaning of Jar Jar. Plus: Finally, a paper conservatives can call their own; is the Iditarod animal cruelty?

Published March 24, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Monica's got a brand-new bag


Shame on your journalistic standards to refuse to set the record straight after your reporter admitted to me on the phone that, not only did she "misread" her notes on what I said to her in more than one place, but "isn't sure" she heard me yell "Bitch." Upon being confronted with my assertion that I have never yelled such a word at anyone in my life she immediately admitted that what she may have "heard" was someone in the crowd yelling "Bitch" at me.

It's bad enough that you are doing your fact-checking after the fact of putting in my mouth such a demeaning word. But what beggars belief is that after being caught in errors on several fronts, you still don't come clean. Your own published story, a report that ran on CNN, and eyewitness accounts testify to the fact that as I was being dragged out I said nothing to, or about, Monica.

Rather, I spoke only of my First Amendment right to free speech being abridged. Yet you claim that I suddenly completely changed character and yelled "Bitch" with the implication that I was yelling it at someone. Who? Monica? I was whisked away from that poor exploited girl in about two nanoseconds. And was rather more concerned with the two hulking security guards pulling my arms from my shoulder sockets then a portly pepperpot who I feel nothing for but pity.

Your gross and malicious misquote, that I yelled "Bitch," works to characterize what went on as some kind of cat fight. In fact it was the life-or-death national issue of an American citizen -- a registered Democrat, in fact -- being violently dragged away for the "crime" of politely asking Monica why she didn't seem to think that the American people had a right to know what the president was doing on the taxpayer's money.

I thought I lived in America, not Russia or China. I thought my right to free speech was protected by the Constitution. I thought Salon.com tried to write what actually happened, not what would make the most pleasing story for the political makeup of its readers.

Yours in great disappointment,

-- Betsy Gibson


Writer Ana Marie Cox responds: I would like to apologize to Ms. Gibson for mistakenly reporting that Linda Tripp had appeared on her talk show. As for her other complaint, Ms. Gibson did call me Thursday morning, sounding extremely upset. She claimed she would never yell such an epithet at Monica Lewinsky. I tried to assure her that not only had I heard the word, but that I could track down other attendees who witnessed her saying it. In fact, since talking to Ms. Gibson, I dutifully confirmed the quote with others there at the time, as well as with a Salon reader who sent an unsolicited email saying that she, too, observed the same incident -- and heard the same pejorative coming from Ms. Gibson.

Ms. Gibson should also know that my story was not alone in its account of the events. Reuters reported Thursday that after confronting Lewinsky, "Gibson was quickly grabbed by security guards and dumped unceremoniously onto Fifth Avenue, although not before she let loose a few unprintable insults toward the former intern."

George Lucas' Jedi mind trick


Wheat fails to understand that she's the one creating the stereotypes. None existed in that movie before people such as her started making them up. I would never even have considered the Jar Jar Binks character to be a stereotype of any real person or type of person. Her suggestion that "buffoonery, gait, appearance" makes a character appear African-American is patently offensive and disgusting. If she is honestly concerned about racial stereotypes (and I'm not convinced that she is), she should stop spreading them.

-- Frank Papa

It is painfully obvious that Jar Jar, with his crazy antics and high-pitched, funny voice, is a comic foil intended to entertain -- and hopefully sell millions of toys to -- all the little kids in the audience. Is it not more likely that Jar Jar is an assemblage of elements that Lucas thought little kids would enjoy rather than a recast historical stereotype belittling a particular ethnic group?

For the record, I disliked "The Phantom Menace." However, I am willing to throw the man a bone -- that he was playing the dual role of artist and marketer when crafting his characters and free from any intention of racial injustice.

-- Stephen Waters
Austin, Texas

I'm a serious "Star Wars" fan, and I run a largish "Star Wars" fan Web site. I have talked with literally thousands of people about "The Phantom Menace," out of which perhaps two or three were adamant that there was something racist about Jar Jar, and maybe another half dozen thought he could reasonably be interpreted that way.

I think it's abundantly clear that George Lucas wasn't trying to emulate any particular racial category, and the fact that Jar Jar has been accused of being everything from American black to Jamaican and more indicates even his critics can't pin him down. Jar Jar is an ethnic Gungan. You might as well suggest that Luke Skywalker is a stereotype of whiny farm boys, C-3PO of paranoid, overly fastidious Brits, that Darth Vader portrays asthmatics as evil, Jabba the Hutt implies fat people are decadent and depraved, and so forth.

It's easy to find things to be offended by. Sometimes the hard thing is letting go of one's own preconceived notions and enjoying the movie. I see Jar Jar not as a stereotype but as an archetype of the underprivileged outsider who proves himself through pluck and luck. Is that such a bad thing to be identified with?

-- Elizabeth Durack

George Lucas' racism (for the sake of fairness, let us assume it is unconscious) is secondary to his real crime: his contempt for the audience. Despite having total creative control, answerable to none of the bean-counters and marketing nabobs that plague that industry, "The Phantom Menace" lives up to every criticism of modern moviemaking: shallow, two-dimensional, effects-driven drivel with wooden characters, first-draft dialogue and relentlessly predictable plot regurgitated from his own best work. He took what most filmmakers can only dream of having -- unlimited funding, creative control, a strong back-story, popular characters and a huge audience lining up for months to buy tickets -- and somehow turned it into a monumental turd of a movie.

-- Tim Moerman

I am a lifelong "Star Wars" fan. I am also a lifelong movie fan and I consider my knowledge of movies as well as the world around me to be very extensive. When I saw "The Phantom Menace" for the first time I was dumbfounded by the portrayal of Jar Jar Binks. I remember looking at my two Star Wars fanatic friends who had braved the 3 a.m. showing and seeing the same look of amazement at the stereotype that was being portrayed that we saw. To deny that Jar Jar, as well as numerous other characters in the movie, project racial stereotypes is naive for even the most dimwitted movie critic, much less for one of the supposed preeminent directors of his generation.

-- Ian Reynolds

No gays or abortions allowed in my papers!


There are a huge number of people in this country who believe homosexuality and abortion are wrong. Are their views represented in the media in a positive manner? Of course not. It is time for liberals to wake up to the fact that you can be against homosexuality and not be a bigot or violent and be against abortion and not anti-feminist.

I'm not asking for the media to be against homosexuality or anti-choice. I'm just asking for neutrality and not to represent biased opinion for news. Keep the opinions to the opinion page.

-- Brian Ellenberger

I find it rather amusing that the same people who hide behind freedom of speech put their own spin on the term: "You can say it, as long as I like it."

If the Weyrichs choose to produce a paper that reflects their ideals and beliefs, so be it. People are going to find something to get offended by no matter what the content is. By the same token, if you don't like what they have to say, don't read it.

Tolerance should be preached, but only if it is all encompassing.

-- K. Trautmann

I don't get it. Every newspaper I read presents abortion and homosexuality as acceptable lifestyle choices. The articles on these topics are overwhelmingly positive. Anti-homosexuality advocates are "bigots" and "hate-mongers" who perpetuate a "climate of violence." Pro-lifers are "anti-choice." Of course, we're told that the reporters and editorial staffs of these papers are "neutral." They don't take sides. Give me a break. The Weyrichs are being honest about their views, not masquerading beyond the neutrality myth. Where can I get a subscription?

-- Gary DeMar

Monster mush?


If you have ever stood on a sled pulled by sled dogs, you would know the truth. I have had the privilege to not only ride on a dogsled, but also to drive it for a short while and I testify that these dogs run because it is what they do -- it is all they want to do.

When a team is assembled, they all make it known that they want to go; the dogs left behind are disappointed in the extreme. There is nothing cruel about the way these dogs are treated and trained, nor is the dog yard inhumane. Huskies and the like have lived for centuries in the cold and I have watched them outside at -30 or -40 degrees and they don't even notice.

As someone from outside who has seen and experienced it up close, dog sledding is an everyday part of life in Alaska and Canada and these dogs would have it no other way.

-- Chris Eaton

Sally Eckhoff breezily dismisses criticism of the Iditarod on the grounds that it is inaccurate. But while it may be true that 120 miles times 10 days exceeds the length of the race, the mathematically accurate daily average is still a cruel distance to make an animal run or even walk.

Additionally, Eckhoff fails to realize that the dogs' excitement is due to the sudden change in environment, the sudden contact with other dogs after months of isolation and the excitement of the people around them. The fact that the dogs are barking and wagging their tails in no way means that they understand and look forward to being forced to run 1,000 miles.

From a physiological viewpoint, extreme, sustained exertion requires a careful pacing of a body's energy. This pacing varies from body to body, and is impossible to maintain and control when bodies are tethered together.

I have little sympathy for the extremism of some animal rights groups, but Eckhoff's attitude is callous and insensitive. Perhaps she should be tied to an automobile and made to run several miles at a pace she cannot control.

-- Walt Roberts

My dot-com business mags have fallen on me and I can't get up!


I, too, have noted the annoying bloat of the dot-com magazines that I read and have noted that the signal to noise ratio (news vs. ads) has gotten way out of hand. Worse, it is sometimes difficult to figure out what the heck the advertisers are selling, and how it relates to my needs.

So, I have taken the simple solution: I've stopped purchasing the paper magazines and instead read their electronic counterparts. Online, the ads are much easier to ignore (or peruse) and I don't have to schlep 20 pounds of dead trees around.

Kudos, however to a couple of excellent mags: Shift, a slim, but pithy Canadian newcomer that reminds me of Wired when it first came out; and Maximum PC -- maximum geek content, minimum ads and the ads are to the point.

-- Lorie Johnson

Readers may lament the magazine bloat now apparent to anyone attempting to heft the latest Business 2.0, but it's advertisers who have the real problem. If readers have to struggle to prioritize their intake of editorial content, imagine how they strategize their intake of ads. They skim right past them. These trades are going to have to do what the Wall Street Journal or the New Yorker do when they sell an edition out -- stop saying yes to advertisers. Raise rates if you must, but if people can't see the ads for the clutter, eventually competitors will shrink your book for you.

-- Clay Edmunds

That story could usefully have been shortened by about a third.

-- Teemu Leisti

By Salon Staff

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