Michael P. Ackley has worked more than three decades as a journalist, the majority of that time at the Sacramento Union. His experience includes reporting, editing and writing commentary. He retired from teaching journalism for California State University at Hayward.More ↓Less ↑
Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.
From Webster’s New World Dictionary:
slut – 2. a sexually promiscuous woman …
promiscuous – 2. characterized by a lack of discrimination; specif. engaging in sexual intercourse indiscriminately or with many persons …
Etymologically, “slut” derives from various northern European sources – Swedish, Dutch and German – and originally meant unkempt, slovenly or dirty. Chaucer once applied it to a slovenly male, but today it refers to women of a certain character.
Today, as observers of language and culture, let us look at the term as Rush Limbaugh applied it to Sandra Fluke (pronounced to rhyme with book), considering why it is unlikely she will sue for defamation.
First, Limbaugh moved to absolve himself of actual malice or malice in law by his humble retraction and apology. This makes it more difficult for Fluke to win punitive damages.
Second, to gain any monetary compensation, Fluke would have to demonstrate “real damages,” that is, a financial loss attributable to the defamation. Arguably, it can be shown her fortunes actually were improved by Limbaugh’s gaffe. She certainly has been in demand on the talk-show circuit.
Third – and this is key – Limbaugh can afford lawyers.
Were Fluke to sue, her most intimate secrets would be subject to unrelenting probing as the attorneys and their investigators sought to discover whether she lived in unmarried monogamy or had multiple sexual partners over the years. The potential plaintiff, a law student, surely understands this.
Finally, and most importantly, Limbaugh’s attorneys might argue that by contemporary standards, the term “slut” isn’t defamatory at all.
For example, we no longer refer to out-of-wedlock births as “illegitimate.” More than 40 percent of American babies now fall into this category, and every January we are treated to newspaper and television images of Baby X – first born in the New Year – with the proud mother posing with the father – her “boyfriend” or “fiance.” Rather than look askance at such parents, folks send them congratulatory cards and disposable diapers for the infant.
Movie actresses and their boyfriends certainly don’t sneak around, but they do swap around and everybody knows their relationships are not platonic. The non-judgmental attention they receive – even when babies do not ensue – exalts rather than stigmatizes out-of-wedlock sex. In fact, some motion picture figures wouldn’t be celebrities at all if they hadn’t allowed videos of their sexual encounters to be splashed over the Internet.
Now you ask: How many partners does one need to be declared “indiscriminate”? Does a slut have two partners in a year? Or should the number be six or eight? And does anybody care?
The answer to the latter question more and more seems to be, “No, it’s none of our business.” Heck, slutitude – if we may coin a term – was defended and even celebrated when we had Bill Clinton, demonstrably a male slut, in the White House.
In this atmosphere, it’s difficult to take seriously the feigned outrage of the likes of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who leaped to attack Limbaugh’s characterization of Fluke. Where were Hoyer and other Democrat politicians when South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s morals were impugned? Their outrage is selective.
Slut, defamatory? Forget it. We’re rapidly becoming a nation of sluts and slutitude enablers.
Lies, damn lies and statistics: TV news readers across the nation were whooping with delight when the Department of Labor reported weekly unemployment insurance claims had fallen by 2,000.
“Whee!” they exclaimed. “This means only 351,000 Americans have just joined the ranks of the unemployed!”
Apparently they didn’t notice that the Labor Department reported, “The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed at 5.5 million …” and that the number of “discouraged workers” was “little different from a year earlier.”
Further, “private-sector employment grew by all of 257,000.” Let’s see: 351,000 minus 257,000. Seems like a net loss of 94,000 jobs.
The real story is right there in the government statistics, but when you see your job as helping to re-elect Barack Obama, you have to accentuate the positive – even if it’s really negative.
But let’s be fair. It’s likely some “news people” just can’t handle simple subtraction.