I did not hear the remark when it was first made. I read about it later. For those who do not follow world events by watching CNN, here is what happened.
On April 15, Tea Party protests were held around the country. At a few of them, tea bags were tossed, some over the White House fence. The following day, on CNN, David Gergen, referring to the Republican Party, said, “They’re searching for their voice.” To this, Anderson Cooper replied, “It’s hard to talk when you’re teabagging.” Mr.Gergen laughed.
Get it? “Teabagging” refers to the lowering of the scrotum into an oral cavity. A quick perusal of the internet suggests, unsurprisingly, that it is a practice favored primarily by gay men.
What is one to make of this? Forgive me for taking this seriously, but possibilities cry out to be examined.
First, there is the possibility that Mr. Cooper was unaware of the meaning of the term.
It is possible. If he has said otherwise, I haven’t heard it. He may have been innocently trying to coin a term that would succinctly describe the actions of the protesters. Supporting this hypothesis is the fact that he did not so much as crack a smile when he made the remark.
On the other hand, to believe that the remark was innocent, one would also have to believe that he is unsophisticated, that he is ignorant of the rich variety of erotic practices in postmodern, urban America, that he is a rube who had simply never heard of this particular practice and the word that describes it so well. His misappropriation of the term would have to have been coincidental.
Fiddlesticks. I refuse to believe that Anderson Cooper is an ignorant rube. He is, after all, the son of Gloria Vanderbilt, a Yale graduate, and an heir to the Astor fortune. I do not know if he is wise, but he is almost certainly worldly. He knew what he was talking about.
To the second possibility, then: maybe he intended it to be a harmless little joke.
The line of reasoning goes something like this: sure, he knew what it meant, but it was not intended as a slur against citizens peacefully protesting the fiscal policies of their government. He has no animosity toward them. And it wasn’t a sly partisan crack aimed at Republicans. It was just a silly pun, a throwaway line, not intended to be offensive.
This is also possible. But we need to pause here and test its plausibility by posing what will seem to many a rather taste- less hypothetical question. Bear with me.
If CNN were filming Fidel Castro having lunch with, say, Barack Obama, who appeared to be struggling to get a word in edgewise as El Comandante pontificated, and tea was served, is it at all within the realm of the possible that Anderson’s whispered voiceover remark would be, “It’s hard to talk when you’re teabagging.”?
Let me be the first to answer: of course not. The idea is absurd. I cannot believe that Anderson Cooper would make such a remark. Why? Because it is so obviously offensive. Yet we know that he did say those words on the other occasion. So, with the help of this hypothetical question, it can be safely inferred that Mr. Cooper’s remark was not intended to be inoffensive.
(And if Mr. Cooper really did use that particular gag line when referring to two such beloved world leaders, would it be ignored, or brushed off as a harmless little joke? Not likely. Would David Gergen laugh? I have no idea.)
We are left with a third possibility, which is that Mr. Cooper knew exactly what his remark meant, that it was calculated mockery of the protesters, that it was partisan, and that, in terms of journalistic and social standards, it was far beyond the pale. And yet he said it anyway.
Why? Two explanations come to mind.
First, he may believe himself to be so powerful that he can flout journalistic and social standards with impunity and continue to be considered a highly respected journalist. He may believe that in 21st-century America his integrity, reputation, and credibility will not be ruined as word of his remark spreads. If that is what he believes, well, he may be right. But why would he engage is such high-risk behavior?
But it is the second explanation that solves the puzzle with all the pieces: He may have grown weary of the straitjacket of journalism. The strain of pretending to be unbiased and always having to ape fairness may have grown tiresome for him. Journalistic standards and ethics may feel to him like a closet that confines his creativity and doesn’t allow his ego to spread its wings. In other words, he may be feeling the need for bigger things.
He probably wants to tell ribald jokes about conservatives, Republicans, and wingnuts. He wants to make fun of Christians and rednecks and gun nuts and hear the progressive mob roar with laughter. Leaving respectable journalism behind, he longs to say naughty things, outrageous things to America and get fame and fortune for saying them!
Here, then, is the only explanation that really connects the dots: Mr. Anderson Cooper wants nothing more in life than to be a sort of bizarro Rush Limbaugh.
Now, I wonder whether David Gergen would find that funny.