Saturday, May 15, 1999

Shock jock's spew ticks off the wrong guy




BY KRISTA RAMSEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        John Varis, superintendent of Reading Community Schools, doesn't need anyone making his job harder.

        He's got his hands full with proficiency tests, state mandates, staff contracts, tax levies.

        Then along comes Howard Stern.

        Shock jock. Jerk. The radio and television “personality” who spews stupid and dangerous ideas, then ducks responsibility when some fool acts on them.

        Normally, John Varis wouldn't stoop to bother with Howard Stern, but recently Mr. Stern made a big mistake. He stepped into Dr. Varis' territory.

        On the air after the high school murders in Littleton, Colo., Mr. Stern wondered why the murderers hadn't first raped the “good-looking girls” before they murdered them. “At least if you're going to kill yourself and kill all the kids, why wouldn't you have some sex?” he asked.

        It's the sort of stuff that makes a human being aspire to be a porcupine.

        Mr. Stern couldn't care less that he wounded the victims' families. That he demeaned females. That he made the good guys' job that much harder. All Howard Stern cares about is turning a buck. That and Howard Stern.

        This man is a manifestation of evil.

        Yet most of us treat the Howard Sterns of the world like we did the class bully. We try to placate him, ignore him, avoid him, pray every night that he'll move away.

        But John Varis doesn't take that kind of crap. He takes umbrage. He takes action.

"First Amendment' this:
        If Howard Stern were a student at Reading Junior Senior High School and promulgated that nonsense, he'd be gone in a minute. Expelled, the superintendent says, for “contributing to a sense of insecurity.” Because he is supposedly an adult and, somewhat more dubiously, a celebrity, he is allowed to get away with it.

        And because he is a media “personality” — never say journalist — he thinks he can hide behind First Amendment rights.

        But, Dr. Varis reminds us, “The First Amendment is for both of us.”

        And it's John Varis' turn to speak.

        When violence took an upswing in American schools, the superintendent took his case directly to the students. He told them their school district had “zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior.” He told them he expected to never see their face in his office for misbehavior.

        “That's unrealistic,” one eighth-grader said. “You can't expect us never to be in trouble.”

        “Yes, I can,” his superintendent shot back. “You are not expected to make life a living hell for anyone. We're here to see that you cannot. If you hear someone saying they're bringing a weapon to school, you tell a teacher. And should you ever touch a teacher, the clouds will open and the wrath of God will come down on you.”

        When he left, the finer points of the matter were extremely clear.

Target: CBS
        In short, John Varis did his job. Now he expects the rest of us to do ours. He's fighting for our kids' education, moral development and lives. All he wants to know is who's on his side.

        Letting Howard Stern get by with this obscenity is moral cowardice, Dr. Varis says. Somebody is paying this man $17 million a year. That somebody — CBS — has the power to rein him in, or take him off the air.

        The Reading board office fax is running hot, spilling out letters to U.S. senators and representatives, to local political leaders and the heads of national education groups. They contain Mr. Stern's quotes. They call for public hearings on his behavior. And they implore elected officials to lobby a strong protest with CBS, clearly suggesting its federal broadcasting license could be on the line.

        “I don't care how big CBS is,” says John Varis, a David against this Goliath. “I don't care. One kid is bigger than CBS.”

        If you agree, ship off some letters to elected officials. But save one stamp. John Varis deserves a note of thanks for standing up for all our children.

        Write Krista Ramsey at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati45202.

        Krista Ramsey's column appears on Saturdays. Write her at the Enquirer, 312 Elm St. Cincinnati 45202.

RAMSEY ARCHIVE