Falwell cleared on Tinky Winky slur

I have no reason to exculpate the Rev. Jerry Falwell — but the man never said boo about the damn Teletubbies.
A fusty doctrinaire, Falwell is a caricature of the outdated beliefs he supports — obstinate and ornery like a sad old orangutan in the zoo for children to ridicule. So it’s no wonder when it got out that the venerable reverend reportedly “said” something politically preposterous — something so remarkably obtuse — that it erupted into a media firestorm.
And by now, everyone is bored with cries to absolve Tinky Winky. See, word on the street was, ol’ Jerry “said” the violet, boy-voiced, purse-toting creature is just a little too swishy. Falwell, so the rumor went, “outed” the plum prankster, claiming that parents should beware the none-too-subtle gay agenda being promoted in the popular British children’s show. The Teletubbies have been around for at least a couple of years.
Enlightened people everywhere were outraged. Just another case of the Moral Majority’s ubiquitous paranoia, they bellowed.
Well, I got news for them.
Before the rumors flew, Falwell wouldn’t have known a Teletubby if it pinched him in his dogmatic ass.
On Feb. 17, the good reverend appeared on ABC’s “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher,” an informal, banter-driven forum in which an eclectic mix of celebrities, experts and political figures discuss the day’s most ardent topics, often with a healthy dose of irreverence and wit.
Host Bill Maher — droll, sarcastic and unafraid to pose the corrosive question — cut to the chase with Falwell.
“First of all,” Maher mused, “you must be quite flattered that when you utter something, like the voice of God, it certainly reverberates around this nation unbelievably, right? I mean, have you heard anything else but this thing the last week?”
And Falwell, in his most charming aw-shucks demeanor possible, quietly ended the simmering, seemingly inexorable debate.
“I have never seen the Teletubbies,” Falwell drawled. “I have never commented in any way at any time on the Teletubbies, positively or negatively.”
I have to admit that I, slumping comfortably in my couch and primed for some right-wing malarkey to deride, was a mite disappointed. I wanted so badly for Falwell to be the bad guy. Not so. Not this time.
Here’s how it all started: On page eight in the February issue of the National Liberty Journal — the Moral Majority mag that Falwell publishes — appeared an article written by one senior editor, alerting parents that Tinky Winky had become a popular gay icon.
Shortly thereafter, an Associated Press writer from Roanoke, Virginia, indubitably reported Falwell’s acerbic, politically charged disapproval of Tinky Winky. That was all it took. In a matter of days, the story became the front-runner for Editorial Fodder of the Year.
Literally hundreds of opinions pieces and commentaries flooded the news wires, chiding Falwell’s absurd conviction. National and international news services reported Falwell’s “announcement.” Many such stories appeared alongside discountenanced photos of the stodgy preacher-man.
On the other side, outcry was widespread and caustic. West Hollywood, Calif., Mayor Steve Martin said Falwell “has single-handedly crushed the hearts of many children by viciously casting Tinky Winky into sexual controversy.”
And there sat Falwell on national TV, unflappable in the closing ring of controversy’s fire, chuckling and jiggling his jowls, displaying a tolerance — no — a near affection for Tinky Winky. Don’t know how he could be gay, Falwell said. A pastor gave me a Tinky Winky doll, he said, and my grandchildren love it. Har-har. They misquoted me. Har-har, praise Jesus.
Of course, true to form, Falwell couldn’t let the show end without interpolating his usual dose of boorish, fire-and-brimstone principles.
“I, as a Christian, believe the gay lifestyle is wrong,” he said soberly. “I won’t compromise that.”
Falwell could profess that crap until his freakin’ jowls turned purple and fell off. He could expatiate it in a hot pink edition of the National Liberty Journal, in his own damned handwriting, and deliver it personally to every reporter in the Bible belt. He could do so wearing a threadbare nighty — and nobody would give a Tinky Winky.
We already knew what Falwell and his cronies think of gays. Old news.
Gays had already claimed Tinky Winky as the new icon. A Washington Post editorial declared it on New Year’s Day. Old news.
No matter — thanks to a knee-jerk press and an audience salivating for a sacrificial right-winger, the Teletubbies and Jerry Falwell will be forever linked in our minds as long as both are a part of the popular consciousness. The hysterical combustion caused by a report that failed to clearly explain that Falwell was only indirectly related to the statements — statements that in the end, amounted to nothing — have secured that inaccuracy forever.
It was the “telephone game” on a global scale; laughable, toothless scuttlebutt.
So I exonerate thee, Rev. Jerry Falwell, of all Teletubby controversy. Maybe they’ll get you next time.
The opinions page welcomes Josh Dickey as columnist. His column will appear every Thursday.