Dropping The H-Bomb In Print

Lawyer Andrew Cohen analyzes legal affairs for CBS News and CBSNews.com.
I'm quite sure that "The Villager" newspaper in Arapahoe County, Colorado is not unlike the small-town weekly newspaper in your neck of the woods. Lots of advertisements for local businesses. Lots of society news. High school sports. The police blotter. That "It Takes a Village" sort of thing.

The Villager, though, happens to be edited and published in my neck of the woods and I was reading it Friday when I came across a column by a fellow named Mort Marks. He is (by some accounts) a renowned local figure in Colorado. He is a staunch Republican, a fundraiser, and he penned a piece entitled "Election, Veterans' Day are over; time to Lighten Up." His first joke of the piece ended with this punch line: "two hookers and a homo."

Now, you just don't see that sort of language any more in print—and people can get fired for using it on the air—so I was curious to know how Marks' use of the H-bomb made it past the Villager's editors and publishers. I contacted a nice lady named Gerri Sweeney, who runs the paper, to ask whether she knew in advance that Marks was going to publish a joke that millions of Americans might find offensive.

She told me: "He is a columnist and we allow columnists to write their columns. We don't censor columnists. I thought it was a lousy joke. Maybe he is running out of material. We don't censor his column to destroy his ability to entertain or inform. I wished he hadn't used it." Sweeney also said she had no plans to include an apology in the next edition of the paper.

I then called Marks himself to ask why he would have included that particular joke in a newspaper. He immediately got nasty with me. "I didn't insult anyone," he told me, and I have "nothing to apologize for." He reminded me that the word "homosexual" is in the dictionary and that he saw nothing wrong with shortening it (for space reasons, he told me), to "homo." He told me to grow up. He told me to lighten up. He laughed at me when I suggested that the word "homo" had long ago taken on a connotation that went way beyond its status as a mere contraction of the word homosexual. We hung up.

Let the record reflect that you may find in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition, Page 866 the following definition: Homo: offensive. Used as a disparaging term for a gay or homosexual person. Let the record further reflect that Marks will apparently continue to be free to write whatever he wants for a newspaper that suddenly seems a lot less friendly than it used to.