Jewish World Review Jan. 16, 2002/ 3 Shevat, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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Trying to move in on Rodney Dangerfield -- EVERYBODY thinks he's Rodney Dangerfield, who don't get no respect.

Congress, which has contributed mostly chaos to the war on terrorism, as anyone unfortunate enough to be at an airport on Friday morning will see when for the first time every bag must be screened by congressional mandate, feels "disrespected" by President Bush.

A clutch of overpaid and overprivileged black professors at Harvard feel "disrespected" because the new president of the university wants his teachers to teach.

And, in the outrage of this or any other year, Paula Zahn, the hot babe at CNN-TV, feels "disrespected" because her cable-TV network called her "sexy" in a commercial promoting her many evident talents and attributes. We hadn't seen such fury since a famous former U.S. senator from Virginia called a press conference to deny the published assertion that he was the dumbest senator in town.

Congress, the Harvard professors and Miss Zahn - or Mzz Zahn, as she may prefer to be addressed - will probably recover from their ordeals with little diminution of life expectancy. They have taken considerable razzing for the public exhibition of their tender psyches, and this may be what hurts most of all. Mark Twain first identified Congress as "our only native criminal class," but not until now did we learn that congresspersons - who live by the motto of "Others" - are sensitive rascals as well. Feelings are easily hurt. You could ask Tom Daschle or Chris Dodd or Pat Leahy, who have surely suffered as much or more than any of the families devastated by September 11.

The Harvard professors, particularly the brilliant (just ask him) Cornel West, who is often confused with Cornell Wilde, are still in intensive care. Professor West pronounced himself "attacked and insulted" and treated with "disrespect" when Lawrence Summers, the new president of the university, who wants to restore Harvard as a center of learning (Sunflower Junior College in Mississippi is believed to be his model), called him in to ask whether he was too generously spraying A's and A-pluses on all his scholars in African-American studies. Not only that, his career as a rap artist was taking him away from scholarship.

Mr. Summers should have known he was inviting the circus to town, and sure enough, here came the Most Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rt. Rev. Al Sharpton, with what Shelby Steele called "the predictable choreography of black indignation and white guilt" - the cocktail more lethal than the Ebola virus.

But neither Cornell Wilde nor Cornel West could have brought down the indignation of Paula Zahn at being called "sexy." Perhaps, in a fit of feminist solidarity, she wanted to be known as "gendery" rather than "sexy," since everybody wants to be a noun and we no longer have "sexes." Tunku Varadarajan of the Wall Street Journal observes that Miss Zahn, whose idea of investigating Gary Condit was to call in a panel of experts from the Psychic Friends Network, nevertheless has the blond hair, the "enviable legs, on which the camera often focuses," the zesty smile, and the good teeth ("the best in the business") that every Mzz in television news must have.

And why not? Who wouldn't rather leer at Paula Zahn than Larry King, or even Peter Jennings or Matt Lauer? Television news, which is more entertainment than news, anyway, has its standards, and fortunately for the dirty old men in the audience, "journalism" is not necessarily one of them. Diane Sawyer was America's "Miss Junior Miss" first, and might have been Miss America if television news had not diverted her from the road to Atlantic City.

So we should lay off Mzz Zahn. The lot of dealing with the shame, the ignominy, the mortification that comes with being sexy is not a happy one. Years, alas decades, later, I must still deal with having once been recognized by Washingtonian magazine, in a piece by Cornelia Noland, quite a dish herself, as one of the 17 sexiest men in Washington. "... in our hearts we women have always known that men were beautiful sex objects," she wrote, understandably waxing rhapsodic. Oh, the utter disrespect, the humiliation of it all. The magazine even sent a female photographer, a cute little number, to sneak into my apartment to take my picture as I lay (fully clothed in khaki and deerskin) across velvet pillows.

The studly Donald Rumsfeld, let the record show, did not make the cut. Neither did Ben Bradlee. Two Redskins, Spiro Agnew, and a footman at the British Embassy did. And look what happened to the 'Skins, Spiro Agnew and the Empire.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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