WashPost Skims Over Webb 'Towel-Head' Remark In Syrupy Tribute to His Literary Gifts
Wednesday’s Washington Post drew an uproar in rural Virginia when the Style section made unfunny jokes about rural Virginia being a place of drug labs, Cracker Barrel, the NRA, and "freshly killed venison," while Northern Virginia liked urbane things, like "Alfred, Lord Tennyson." Libby Copeland’s syrupy tribute to James Webb in that section Wednesday presented him as a wonderful match for lovers of both venison and Tennyson. The title was "Don’t Call Him Redneck: James Webb Hates the Expression, But Is Very Proud of the Culture."
The most notable part was Webb’s "towel-head" expression for Arabs. In describing screenwriting and typical movie villains to Copeland, Webb said: "Towel-heads and rednecks – of which I am one. If you write that word, please say that. I mean, I don’t use that pejoratively, I use it defensively. Towel-heads and rednecks became the easy villains in so many movies out there." Did someone step in Macaca? Not if the Post is judging.
Copeland related that when Webb’s press secretary learns of the quote, Webb called back from Atlanta: "I used the words that are used to stereotype them...I’m really upset if this is going to end up being the guppy that eats the whale here." This is an interesting passage from the paper that turned the Macaca guppy into a whale. It’s one thing to charge that Indian-Americans might be offended by Allen’s mockery of Webb volunteer S.R. Sidarth. But don’t liberals fret that Arab Americans are much more singled out for stereotyping?
The Copeland piece, as a whole, read like a rebuttal to Allen’s "Macaca" remarks, which mocked Webb as representing Hollywood values, not rural Virginia values. (Compare their testimony to Webb's redneck authenticity to their skepticism about Allen's cowboy "shtick.") Copeland began with a story about Webb bringing his liberal Hollywood friend Rob Reiner out to the mountains for "flatfoot dancing" and the whole cultural experience. She claimed Webb is comes at Hollywood from the right, as if that’s difficult:
Campaign officials for Webb's opponent, Republican Sen. George Allen, have repeatedly referenced Webb's careers in writing and in movies, hoping these labels might imply he is out of touch, untrustworthy or -- perhaps worst of all in Virginia -- liberal. In a debate, Allen said Webb was more aligned with the "values of Hollywood" than the "values of Virginia." "Hollywood," of course, is itself a dirty word in the popular political lexicon, a kind of shorthand for things that are lefty, elitist and vaguely debauched.
The funny thing is, Webb -- a Democrat who became a Republican in the '70s and a Democrat again in recent years -- has been a largely conservative force both in movies and on the printed page. At various times he has eviscerated liberals, feminists, elites, academics and those who protested the Vietnam War. He has criticized Hollywood for its treatment of his people.
She then notes that Rob Reiner has "maxed out." That’s grist for Allen, whether the Post likes it or not. Copeland doesn’t note that on Hollywood’s dearest issues – abortion on demand and so-called "gay marriage" – "conservative" Webb is in line with those liberals and feminists, just as his anti-war stance matches the anti-Vietnam crowd.
From there, it was back to playing up Webb’s military credentials, you know, the ones he thinks are unseemly to repeat for political gain: "His dad’s family came out of these hollows, though Webb grew up on military bases all over the country." She added later: "He is himself the product of a long line of military men, and his son Jimmy is a Marine in Iraq. Webb's dad was an Air Force officer who used to make 4-year-old Webb hit him, fist to fist, to prove he was tough." And, in his novel Fields of Fire, "One of the main characters is a man much like Webb, a soldier of Scotch-Irish descent who comes from a tradition of fighters." One of the four pictures illustrating this valentine is, as the caption related, "Webb in Vietnam, where he was a Marine company commander."
Copeland also promotes Webb’s literary side, that "the near-constant over the years has been writing, every since he read a short story by Hemingway at Georgetown Law School" and decided to try writing. " He’s "written six novels and, most recently, a book of nonfiction about Scotch-Irish culture. (That's not counting an academic book he wrote in law school, about U.S. military strategy in the Pacific.)" He "talks about his love of poetry. Yeats. Pound. Dylan Thomas." His novel Fields of Fire is "filled with the ugliness of combat, beautifully rendered. Tom Wolfe called it ‘the finest of the Vietnam novels,’ and it remains a strong seller to this day."
Later, she added that "Critics have praised his scene-setting and far-ranging, action-packed plots. They've noted that, as one reviewer put it, he is "'not just a writer of war thrillers; he is a genuine novelist of ideas,' tackling such issues as when it's appropriate (or not) to put soldiers in harm's way." Copeland only notes critiques of his books when their characters spout "unsubtle conservative gibes," which helps her sell Webb as Not Liberal.
Finally, all of Webb's "ethnic pride" for "his people," the Scotch-Irish whites of the South, is celebrated repeatedly. Webb's conservative statements on racial quotas are ignored, and his views on "his people" are supportively relayed:
In interviews, he recalls starting law school in 1972 and discovering that others were in "ethnocentric retreat." Everyone else knew who they were and where they came from, everyone else had ethnic pride, but the identity of Webb's own culture had been lost. He says his peers labeled him a white man of privilege, a WASP. In the decades since, Webb has studied the migrations of his people, exulting in their fighting history and puzzling over their entrenched poverty.
One suspects this white ethnic pride would be much less charming to the Post, one suspects, in a profile of mmm, Pat Buchanan. Especially after those "towel-head" remarks.