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Jewish World Review May 28, 2002 / 17 Sivan, 5762

Art Buchwald

Art Buchwald
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Consumer Reports

Malice On Purpose: I'm scared! | I just read where satire could be dangerous to your health. Two officials in Texas are suing a weekly newspaper for printing a story that a reporter wrote. It was a satirical piece, which pretended the officials had sent a 6-year-old to prison for reading a book in class. The basis of the satire was that a judge and a district attorney had actually sent a 13-year-old to jail. The plaintiffs claimed they were libeled because the story was not labeled satire.

This article scared the heck out of me because satire is my business and I can't afford to defend myself - particularly at the prices lawyers charge these days.

Let me give you and example of how satire works.

I read where the Republicans sent out invitations for a fund-raiser in Washington, D.C. In the invitation was a letter saying donors could also buy three patriotic photos of the president taken on Sept. 11, which they could have as souvenirs for $150 extra.

Now this is the kind of story I love because it makes you realize how tacky politics can really be.

I interviewed a Republican fund-raiser (fictitious, of course), accusing him of cashing in on what was one of the saddest days in our history, and he replied, "It wasn't political - it was patriotic. Besides, President Clinton did a lot worse. For a fee he let his guests leave their dirty socks in the Lincoln Bedroom (I am bringing the Democrats into it to give the Republican side, which is a brilliant idea.)

He added, "The only ones who think the photo idea was smarmy were the left wing liberals who are critical of anything the president does." (That's what we in the satire business call a "zinger.")

I said, "Some critics say the Republican fund-raisers are sucking up to the right wing."

He said, "Why shouldn't we? They were the ones who got Bush elected." (Bull's-eye.)

The question, dear reader, is how someone can be fair if he writes satire. The answer is, he can't. Satire is malicious, and until now, protected by the First Amendment.

It is a way to express an opinion and also make the reader laugh. The important thing is for the person reading to have knowledge of what is being satirized so he/she can be in on the joke.

I remember once during the McCarthy days I wrote an article saying that almost every town in America had four or five organizations to fight Communists - but the towns didn't have any Communists. I suggested each one import a Communist to come there and be the threat. He would throw garbage on people's lawns, demonstrate at the courthouse and agree to have his phone tapped by the FBI.

The column caused a tremendous reaction, some negative, some positive, but I think I made my point.

We live in a country where writers can satirize anything they want to, even their own satire.

It's a malicious business, but someone has to do it.

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05/23/02: Barbie Doll
05/21/02: Why Bermuda?
05/19/02: White collar prisons
05/15/02: Those in depression
05/09/02: Mother's Day in the market
05/07/02: Salary negotiations
04/26/02: Homeland security
04/24/02: The greatest breakthrough
04/18/02: Conflict of Interest
04/15/02: The Sign That Couldn't
04/11/02: It's Cherry Blossom Time
04/08/02: The Young Audience
03/31/02: Safe Deposit for Sale
03/26/02: Au Revoir to Soft Money
03/21/02: Andersen Defense Fund?
03/19/02: Celebrity kickers
03/15/02: A Mickey Mouse solution
03/13/02: Shadow government in the sandbox
03/07/02: The Way It Is
03/05/02: Not telling the truth
03/01/02: Book flogging
02/27/02: The players are mad

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