Two weeks ago in Press Clips, I chided Register reporter John Hughes for hawking negative stereotypes of gays in his Aug. 30 article about the re-popularization of the Village People's 1979 song “YMCA.” Compare Hughes' depiction of gays (“raunchy sexuality . . . randy men snorted amyl nitrate and . . . danced till sunrise or until meeting a mate”) with his description of the song's current, white-bread, middle-class fans (“wholesome”), and you get the picture.
Fresh from whacking the Register for cropping off the heads of two lesbians in a front-page Metro photograph, I suggested that Hughes' story was further evidence that far-Right and anti-gay ideology seeps into that paper's news stories.
If there was any question about the accuracy of my observation, the answer arrived last week in a plain white No. 10 envelope whose postage was paid–inadvertently, I assume–with a 32-cent “LOVE” stamp.
The letter opened “Listen Jizzbag” and closed “Blow me.” Signed: John Hughes. In between, words like “shitsucker,” “fuck” and “dickwad” peppered the typed, single-spaced, one-page letter, which disavowed official sanction from our local family-values guardian.
It concluded with this enlightened jab at the gay community: “May I close with the sincere hope that you and all for whom you fake a microfiber of pathos develop cancerous polyps and die in slobbering froth.”
Perhaps this display of warm-heartedness and professionalism has already earned Hughes employee-of-the-month honors at the Reg.
After several calls, I finally reached Hughes.
“Do you feel better?” I asked.
“Listen, you ball-less fuck, I have absolutely no remorse for anything I said in that letter,” Hughes said. “You should be pleased that's as far as it got.”
I asked him what he meant.
“I suppose this is not the forum for a challenge,” he said.
“You honestly don't think you erred when you described the gay community as 'raunchy'?”
“Listen, I'm talking about the history of gays. Do some research or read the same magazines I did–people said it was raunchy. There was nothing I said about gays that was anything but fact,” said Hughes before slamming down the phone.
I know, I know: you're saying I shouldn't be surprised. This is, after all, the paper whose editorial writers call on gays to just shut up, who hold out as models “non-political”–that is, closeted–gays.
All of this is evidence that the game has changed, but not enough: the Reg would never print a description of blacks as “watermelon- eating,” “dance-happy” and “sexually potent.” But gays? Apparently they're still fair game.
To see if Hughes was a random nut bouncing off the rubber walls of Libertarian Central on Grand Street, I put in a call to his ultimate boss, Register editor Tonnie Katz. The answer: Hughes isn't alone up there. Rather than issue an apology to the gay community, Katz launched into a 12-minute attack on OC Weekly. I'm calling her about a guy who calls gays “raunchy” and who called me “jizzbag,” and she says we're “juvenile and unprofessional”? Well, Tonnie, that beats stupid and backward.
Katz said forceful reactions–such as Hughes'–didn't surprise her, explaining that our “cheap shots” were upsetting the tender darlings on her news staff.
But she was unequivocal in distancing herself and the paper from the letter. “Only I speak for this paper,” she harrumphed in her best Ed-Asner-as-Lou-Grant imitation.
The next day, a Register messenger delivered a brief, very formal note from Hughes. In it, he declared that his original letter was not meant for “public consumption.” And, just to show that times are changing at the Register, this one was signed “sincerely,” not “blow me.”
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.