It’s hard to find a way to worsen the horror of the school shootings in Littleton, Colorado, but Howard Stern found it–just one day after the murders, on his April 21, 1999 radio show (syndicated by Infinity Broadcasting, a CBS subsidiary).
While considering the motives of the male students who murdered 12 classmates and one teacher, the “shock jock” mused: “There were some really good-looking girls running out with their hands over their heads. Did those kids 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.”
From the Rocky Mountain News (4/24/99), the first to report Stern’s comments, to the Boston Globe (5/1/99), which eventually ran a column calling Stern “antisocial,” a number of broadcast journalists, talk radio hosts and print reporters took notice of Stern’s remarks. While some reporters rejected criticism of Stern as censorious, most took umbrage, labeling his comments “insensitive” and “upsetting.” The Washington Post (4/28/99) found Stern’s cracks “outrageous”; the Denver Post (4/27/99) considered his mockery “hurtful” and “out of bounds.”
Despite the hue and cry about Stern’s lack of sensitivity to Littleton families, however, an extensive search of the Nexis database during this time period could find no member of the mainstream press who presented Stern’s Columbine comments as what they were: advocacy of rape.
In fact, virtually no one debating Stern’s comments has even mentioned the words “rape” or “sexual assault.” But when a radio personality with millions of fans wonders why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, in the middle of their gun-waving, bomb-planting, hostage-taking rampage, didn’t take the time to “have some sex,” rape is exactly what he’s encouraging. Unless, of course, Stern doesn’t quite get that a girl with a gun to her head can’t consent to sex.
Stern not only proclaimed his shock that armed young men passed up the chance to rape young women before they murdered them–he revealed that, in their shoes, he would not have let that opportunity slip by. When he said, “If I was going to kill some people, I’d take them out with sex,” his endorsement of sexual violence was stunning in its clarity.
The news here is not that Stern “crossed the line” or made “one or two inappropriate comments,” as Bob Visotcky, manager of Denver radio station KXPK-FM, claimed in a pro forma apology on April 26. Offensive and disrespectful comments are the bread-and-butter of Stern’s workday; he’s based his multi-million-dollar career on an exceedingly crude, snide and insolent persona.
What is news is that the “shock jock” openly advocated rape on his show, and that he “joked” about himself as a potential rapist. Stern matter-of-factly imagining himself sexually assaulting “a bunch of good-looking girls” is not exactly the party line offered in many a mainstream account of off-the-air Howard, supposedly a “really nice guy” who is respectful and loving toward women (e.g., New York Times, 3/10/97).
What is news is that instead of retracting his comments or apologizing for them, he blamed deejays and reporters for trying to use his words to get him off the air. “I made a comment, and anybody who heard it knows that it was totally in context,” Stern insisted on his show shortly after his “insensitive” remarks garnered some bad press. “I was just looking for the motive in all of this, because I understand the criminal mind. If somebody goes out and rapes a woman and kills them for sexual pleasure or something like that, I can understand it. But this was just so senseless that I was trying to understand it.”
So committing murder for the sake of murder is “senseless,” but raping and then murdering someone is understandable? Yeah, this guy’s hysterical. As for the “context” Stern insists would clarify his good intentions, you be the judge: His pro-rape rant was prompted by a young male caller who described how he got off on watching Littleton girls run out of Columbine High with “their boobs bouncing…turning me on.”
What is news (particularly in light of the gaggle of “How sick are we?” articles that popped up in the press in response to Stern’s Columbine comments) is that, in their reporting of this incident, virtually all major news outlets have misunderstood, once again, exactly what rape is. Even the Wall Street Journal‘s April 26 column condemning Stern for joking about Serbs having “a good time” raping “hot” Albanian women failed to draw any connection to his Columbine comments. (Perhaps forced sex as a war crime is the only definition of sexual assault clear enough to be considered rape by the mainstream press.)
In the wake of the Littleton murders, an endless stream of reporters and pundits have condemned the fantasy world of rock music, movies and video games for allegedly glorifying violence in the eyes of young men. (By the umpteenth “was this the cause?” showing of Leonardo DeCaprio’s uzi-in-the-classroom scene from The Basketball Diaries on the nightly news, I got the urge to go off on my own rampage…at the network TV studios.) Those journalists so hell-bent on attacking youth culture should be focusing at least the same scrutiny on the real-life pro-rape statements of a celebrity who boasts millions of young male fans, many of whom profess a desire to be “just like Howard.”