By: Alicia Mundy

Columnist Examines ASNE Convention Skit Furor

There was an “incident” of sorts at the American Society of
Newspaper Editors’ recent convention that has been portrayed in
simplistic terms that do neither the offender nor the offended
party any good. Frankly, I believe that the reaction by some ASNE
members since then adds to the perception of the media as
“elitist” and out of touch with most Americans.

The last night of the conference, a Washington comedy troupe, The
Capitol Steps, performed a skit that swiped at the Chinese
government’s endless paranoia and its retention of the U.S.
espionage plane. I’ve sat through numerous Capitol Steps skits
over the past dozen years – they’re often hilarious, but
almost as often boorish and full of high-school humor – just
like Jay Leno, David Letterman, and “Saturday Night Live.”

This time, in an effort to “look” Chinese, a couple of members
(they are mostly white males) donned black wigs and parodied the
Chinese government’s routine sloganeering in response to almost
anything. Not having done enough homework to learn a short
Chinese phrase the troupe could quickly turn into rhyming lyrics,
the performers settled for chanting “Ching Ching Chong Chong.”

Afterward, an ASNE intern named Amy Leang, from Ball State
University, wrote a column about it, and The Washington
Post pounced on it. Leang wrote that she was “deeply
humiliated” by the skit. Fair enough. Then she added, “The next
morning, I woke up crying.”

Crying? I can almost hear the outrage from many Americans. What
about the tears shed by the families of the captured crew? They
knew their loved ones were being held by one of the most brutal,
inhumane, and (just to remind those who missed the Tiananmen
Square massacre) truth-defying regimes on the face of the Earth.

While we’re on the subject, what of the tears shed by the little
5-year-old son of a Chinese-American scholar from American
University when, two months ago, he was taken by the Chinese
guards and held in isolation away from his mother and father for
weeks? His mother is still being held on the usual Chinese charge
of espionage. (Why can’t Chinese autocrats get more creative?)
That story has gripped the university communities in the
Washington area but apparently hasn’t made it to the campus of
Ball State.

The Capitol Steps were not satirizing the Chinese people. They
were making fun of a repressive regime that speaks in slogans and
chants because it will not speak the simple truth. Over the past
50-plus years, it has become a parody of itself.

Tim McGuire, editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and
new president of ASNE, conceded to the Post that he was
among the editors who laughed at the skit. But other ASNE members
were apparently shocked that such an act would be performed at an
ASNE conference. It’s important to remember that the offending
skit was done by a professional comedy troupe – not by ASNE
members or U.S. politicians.

However, if you want to see equally offensive political satire,
pull up clips of how the Chinese government itself has described
Americans during the last 20 years. American reporters coming
back from Beijing have recounted tales and brought back snippets
of Chinese leaders’ stereotyping Americans with outlandish
Southern drawls, huge wallets, unlimited sexual appetites, and
preternaturally violent behavior. They have raised jingoistic
paranoia to a high art. In the journalism curriculum today, is
there room for history and political science? How about a seminar
on comparative stereotyping?

Could The Capitol Steps have done a better, less offensive job?
Yes – “Ching Ching Chong Chong” is the stuff of 1950s school
plays, and if I were Asian, I’d be annoyed. The director of The
Capitol Steps says the skit is staying in the act. If so, they
should fix the phrase – and apologize.

Meanwhile, Amy Leang might also tone down her rhetoric and
consider the feelings of those who have been abused by and lost
members of their families to the Chinese dictators. And those who
want to jump on the “outraged” bandwagon might learn a lesson
from Mel Brooks.

In a segment aired a week ago Sunday, Brooks, the creative Jewish
genius who wrote “The Producers,” told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that he
feels the only way to truly bring down Adolf Hitler and all Nazi-
lovers is to make fun of them – their lockstep behavior and
their lockstep thinking and their lockstep accents. Ridicule, he
explained, is the most formidable weapon. It is the ultimate
answer to the ultimate abomination.

Alicia Mundy’s “Pack Rat” column appears monthly in E&P. Mundy (Mundy007@aol.com) is Washington bureau chief for Mediaweek, a sister magazine.

Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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