Donohue used “gook joke” in debate about purported anti-Catholicism

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In the last week, Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, one of the most vocal critics of the hiring by John Edwards' presidential campaign of two bloggers who Donohue characterized as "anti-Catholic vulgar trash-talking bigots," has been quoted by The New York Times and the Associated Press, and interviewed by MSNBC and CNN over the controversy. But as Media Matters for America noted, Donohue's history of controversial comments and inconsistent outrage was largely ignored in the coverage of the controversy.

On September 25, 2002, Donohue appeared as a guest on the now-defunct MSNBC talk show Donahue, hosted by Phil Donahue. Donohue appeared on the program with Andy Hao, who was then a sophomore at Columbia University, to discuss a joke Hao made at the 2002 Liberty Cup, a football game between Columbia and Fordham University. In a September 19, 2003, article on the annual game, the Columbia Daily Spectator, Columbia's student newspaper, reported that at the 2002 contest, the “Columbia University Marching Band, long known for its clever and often off-color jokes, made one that eventually gained national media attention.” According to the Spectator, Hao, who was the “Marching Band Poet Laureate,” “referred to 'Fordham tuition going down like an altar boy,' angering many students and fans from the Jesuit Catholic-run university.”

Donohue subsequently appeared on Donahue with Hao to discuss the joke and promised to “demonstrate that the kid's a phony.” Donohue then added that he had mentioned a hypothetical to Hao earlier that day on a different MSNBC program: "[W]e could hypothesize that there'd be a Columbia University pingpong team made of Asians, and somebody goes out there and says 'All gooks go home.' " Donohue finished his demonstration by asking: “Now, what's wrong with a gook joke?” After Hao responded that “the gook joke's completely irrelevant,” Donohue stated: “All I'd ask for you is show the same degree of respect for Catholics as you would for Asians. You don't like the gook jokes? I don't like them, either. So just wise up.” After a commercial break, Donohue returned to his argument and asked: “What about the gook jokes? I want to know, why don't you have a sense of humor about gook jokes?”

On February 13, the website Crooks and Liars posted a transcript of the exchange.

From the September 25, 2002, edition of MSNBC's Donahue:

DONOHUE: Look, the kid's a phony, and he proved that to me --

DONAHUE: Well, don't start calling names on me right out the box here.

DONOHUE: Well, no, no, no, no. I will demonstrate -- I will demonstrate that the kid's a phony.

HAO: All right, let's do it.

DONOHUE: I dealt with that --

HAO: Bring it on.

DONOHUE: Look, just hold on here. You had your time. Look, the kid's a phony, and here's why: I dealt with him earlier today on an MSNBC show, and I said we could hypothesize that there'd be a Columbia University pingpong team made of Asians, and somebody goes out there and says, “All gooks go home.” So I asked him about my gook joke. And guess what? Andy's sense of humor just collapsed. He found that offensive. You see what you are? You're a phony. You're a typical Ivy League little brat who thinks it's OK to dump on Catholics, but you don't like my gook joke. Now, what's wrong with a gook joke?

HAO: Can I respond?


HAO: All right. Here's the thing. I mean, first of all, it's completely a false analogy.

DONOHUE: No, it isn't. You attacked my religion!


HAO: I would like to speak.

DONAHUE: Bill, Bill, let's behave like Catholics here.


HAO: I mean, the gook joke's completely irrelevant, while the Catholic joke is a satire of an event that's going on. The gook joke's just throwing on racial slurs. I mean --

DONOHUE: Oh, let me tell you something --

HAO: Your members and your Catholics should be very proud of you.


DONOHUE: No, let me tell you something. We can go right down the line. You want to talk about Asians? We can do it with Jews. We can do it with African-Americans.

DONAHUE: All right, let's --

DONOHUE: Everybody knows the dirty laundry in every other group. And all I'm saying is this: Civility should rule. You ought to know that. You go to a fancy school. All I'd ask for you is to show the same degree of respect for Catholics as you would for Asians. You don't like the gook jokes? I don't like them, either. So just wise up.


HAO: Behind the argument in your joke, you're saying that if it offends somebody or here -- you call it uncivil. It shouldn't be said. But where do we draw the line? I mean, if it offends somebody, should it not be said?

DONOHUE: Common sense and --

HAO: How many people should it offend?

DONOHUE: -- and common decency should know that you don't generalize from the individual to the collective. We know there's a problem in the Catholic Church. We know there's a problem in a lot of --

HAO: Well, that --

DONOHUE: -- demographic groups and institutions. What is wrong is when you generalize from one group to the other. I used to be a professor. I'd like to teach you, kid. You might learn something.

DONAHUE: You know, I tell you what --

HAO: Nothing good from you.

DONOHUE: Oh, you'd learn a lot. You'd learn about virtue.

HAO: For Catholics.

DONAHUE: You know, you're being very patronizing to the young man.

HAO: That's exactly right.

DONAHUE: And I don't think we're going to -- you know, he doesn't have to do a perp walk here. He's not going to jail for this.

DONOHUE: Nor should he. I never asked for that.

DONAHUE: And you know, I think if you just relax, move on -- we can't expect our culture not to -- there's a thousand jokes that are stemming from the Catholic Church's scandal.

DONOHUE: Let me -- let me tell you something, Phil. Phil, I watch you all the time because you're so good. You really are. I want to tell you something. Two nights ago, you had Reverend Jesse Jackson on. He's complaining and gets excised for DVDs.

DONAHUE: True. Barbershop, the movie.

DONOHUE: Barbershop. Exactly.


DONOHUE: Now, you -- you raised the issue of censorship.


DONOHUE: But you -- see, because you're sensitive to African-Americans more than you are to Roman Catholics, and that's certainly true of this guy.


DONAHUE: I'll tell him when he comes in.


DONAHUE: We'll be back in just a moment.


DONAHUE: Your reference to oral sex and the Catholic Church scandal in your -- as the poet laureate, made people crazy. Here's what --

HAO: Made some people laugh too.

DONAHUE: Made -- you make --

DONOHUE: A lot of bigots laughed at it.


DONAHUE: How are you instructed by this, Andrew? Did you have any idea that this kind of -- you know, it is a dormitory joke, and you brought it right out there in front of Mom, Dad. You may have had some grandmothers there.

HAO: I think it's a joke that should be out there. I mean, people have to have a sense of humor. And every joke you bring out, some people aren't going to get it.

DONOHUE: Yeah, like the gook joke!


DONAHUE: If you joined us late, you're not -- you don't know what we're talking about. One of the references in -- as he announced to the whole crowd at the football game, whose tuition is going down?

HAO: Fordham.

DONAHUE: “Fordham's tuition is going down” --

HAO: “Like an altar boy.”

DONAHUE: -- “like an altar boy.”

DONOHUE: What about the gook jokes? I want to know, why don't you have a sense of humor about gook jokes?

HAO: I mean, I -- what I'm saying is --


DONOHUE: Why don't you lighten up a little?