DeMarco: Anderson, I’d Like Conservative Backlash for $1600

The Op-Ed Page


Editor’s note: What, Paul again already! Well, yeah. He actually sent me this one before I’d actually posted the one on the statues. I didn’t read this one until after I’d done that. I should have posted this one first, because it’s more perishable. The statue one was pretty evergreen. Oh, well. I’m making up for it by going ahead and posting this now.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

And the answer is: the Daily Double! It was bound to happen; now even “Jeopardy!,” perhaps the least offensive television show on the market (in a tie with “Bubble Guppies”) is in the crosshairs of our ever-expanding culture wars.

At the beginning of the show that aired April 27, three-day champion Kelly Donohue did something heinous. He (get ready) held up three fingers and tapped his chest. Scandalous. In the usually awkward opening montage, most contestants stare directly into the camera with a stale smile as they are introduced. Donohue did a little business after each of his three wins, holding up one, then two, then three fingers on successive nights. (I know, can you believe this guy?)

The position of his hand (commonly known as the “OK” sign) has until recently had positive connotations. In 2017, some white supremacists began using the gesture as a white power symbol – the three extended fingers are the “W” and the middle finger plus the index finger/thumb circle are the “P.” It would be interesting to know how widely known the malevolent interpretation of the “OK” symbol is. I suspect it would be less than the majority. I first learned about it in December 2019, when several Naval Academy midshipmen and West Point cadets were falsely accused of flashing the sign during ESPN’s broadcast of the Army-Navy football game (turns out they were playing the circle game).

In response to Donohue’s gesture, a harshly critical letter was posted the next day (the next day!) on Medium that has now been signed by almost 600 former “Jeopardy!” contestants. I have reprinted parts of the letter with my comments in italics. It reads in part, “(His) gesture was not a clear-cut symbol for the number three (only if you wanted to see something different)… This, whether intentional or not (your intent, no matter how benign, matters less than my thin-skinned interpretation), resembled very closely a gesture that has been coopted by white power groups… People of color, religious minorities, and other marginalized groups already live in a United States and a Canada that have structural and institutional racism, sexism, antisemitism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia embedded into their history and function (you have mistaken his gesture for a white power symbol. But don’t miss a chance to connect him with multiple OTHER forms of discrimination)… These people deal with microaggressions nearly every day of their lives (So let’s fight a perceived microaggression with an 1,176-word macroaggression to make ourselves feel superior)… We cannot stand up for hate… Is the production team of Jeopardy! prepared for… the backlash and ramifications should one of those moments ever become tied to real-world violence? (I’m envisioning an army of white supremacists hitting the books so they too can qualify for “Jeopardy!” and influence the masses with coded symbols. And when you play the tape backwards, you can faintly hear the “14 Words.”)… We would like to know whether a sensitivity and diversity auditor is involved in the show’s writing (Sigh…).”

Listen my “Jeopardy!” friends, I’m on your team. America is engaging in a long-awaited racial reckoning. So much good is happening. Faces long ignored are being seen and celebrated; voices long silenced are being amplified and uplifted. Black women and men are finally coming to center stage, to full citizenship. It is, in my view, an unequivocally marvelous development. I am nothing but grateful for and supportive of honoring the achievements of people of color as well as an unflinching look at our history and the obligations that history engenders.

But many white Americans are not yet comfortable with this new consciousness. They want to marginalize the participants in this movement as a “woke leftist mob.” My sense as a white ally is that most people, black and white, who support the new Civil Rights movement are even-tempered and sensible. But the untethered assumptions, anger, and lack of charity conveyed in this letter do not reflect well on them and do not help our effort.

If you, “Jeopardy!” letter writers, were concerned about Donohue’s gesture, why not just reach out to him quietly and personally. His story is certainly believable. He was making the number “3” with his fingers after having made “1” and “2” on previous days. He has the zeitgeist on his side; the iPhone still includes an “OK” hand emoji. It takes a conspiratorial mind to assume that his motive for appearing on “Jeopardy!” was to win three games and flash a white power symbol.

We who want to advance racial justice should understand that it’s a hearts-and-minds effort. Think of how much more effective you would have been if you had reached out to Donohue and he had written a Facebook post beginning “It’s been pointed out to me that….” What if he didn’t say anything? Then you don’t say anything. You let this one go, because an objective observer would tell you he didn’t mean anything by it.

We would do well to exercise a little restraint. If you want to be a civil rights advocate, pattern yourself after the young John Lewis. He and other students underwent rigorous training in non-violence to prepare for lunch counter sit-ins. They knew they were right so they sat down and said nothing. That silence was more important than anything they could have spoken.

Remaining silent is, of course, not always the most effective option. We must speak when real injustice is being done. But you are playing a self-righteous game of “Gotcha,” and hurting our cause.

Your letter has convinced no one to come over to the movement. You have only given fodder to the conservative media outlets such as Fox and the Wall Street Journal to rightly lampoon you. The WSJ’s May 2 editorial defending Donohue and castigating your “manic search for racial guilt” is entitled “Jeopardy: Mass Hysteria for $2,000.” Hey, you say, you plagiarized your headline from them. Nope, as Brad is my witness, I titled my piece the day before the WSJ piece. The response to this kind of foolishness is deservedly predictable.

More dishearteningly, you have alienated some of those who were leaning our way. You have humiliated Donohue, who based on his Facebook post was an ally. Cudgeling Donohue has no effect on true racists. They are usually unreachable. Ignore them. Focus on the fair-minded who are feeling threatened but could be convinced that America still has much work to do before we reach the Promised Land.

Our fair-minded opponents must be respected and not treated as enemies. When they see you treating an ally in this manner, they have no reason to come over to our side.


23 thoughts on “DeMarco: Anderson, I’d Like Conservative Backlash for $1600

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    My rebuttal…

    Although I understand and appreciate what Paul means to say, there is no “our side” in this for me. The 600 Jeopardy winners made themselves look foolish by sending such a letter (as Paul makes clear). Which surprises me, because I tend to think of Jeopardy winners as pretty smart people.

    People who have such a snit fit based on a ridiculous misinterpretation of what happened, and put it in a form that reads as though it were ghostwritten by a sophomore pursuing a Woke Studies major, do not constitute a “side” with which I choose to associate.

    I mean, it’s nice they want to stick up for the oppressed and so forth, but doing it this way is an embarrassment to everyone. Which is sort of what Paul is saying, although he’s nicer about it. I’m not going to try to break it to them gently by saying I’m on their side.

    Nor am I on the side of the guys who can’t wait to beat them up over it. They repel me.

    My position in all this is what it usually is with the Kulturkampf. I just wish all these people would stop yammering at each other so we could channel that energy toward working together on things that matter, things on which we can at least hypothetically agree. Like infrastructure. If we can agree on what “infrastructure is.” Which we can’t, as long as people divide every frickin’ thing along tribal lines, which we will keep doing as long as we keep yelling at each other across the culture barriers.

    And there, Paul is 100 percent right. But that’s because he’s like me, in that he believes public discourse should be about finding ways to work together on things so we can build a decent society together. He believes rhetoric should be about persuading, rather than signaling that we’re one of the GOOD people who are going to band together until we get 51 percent, and then CRUSH the BAD people…

    Which is the way woke people, and the people who like to yell at woke people, view the world: Two sides, both striving for absolute victory or absolute defeat. No synthesis. No looking for the things that unite us more than divide us.

    Last year, in the midst of all the protests and the Trumpian outrage over the protests, I tried to write a post on this subject — the idea, which I’ve expressed many ways over the years, that thinking people don’t have to choose one of these diametrically opposed (and poorly, often illogically framed) “sides.” In fact, being thinking people, they are obliged not to. They’re obliged to work toward constructive solutions instead, if they can.

    But it was one of those posts that just got longer and longer and was nowhere near an end, and it still sits in the drafts folder in the guts of the blog.

    Maybe I should dust it off, and try to finish it. I just haven’t been motivated to do it, what with all the good things that have happened — Joe’s election, his accomplishments so far, his bold plans for a future that’s about helping us all — not this or that group — have a good life together.

    So I dunno. Right now, I’m only addressing the subject because Paul, in good faith, brought it up…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Wow. I just glanced back at that draft and saw that it’s at 1,277 words and far from a finished piece, even though I tried twice, five months apart. A real mess…

  2. Ken

    “Silly Things People Blog About for $50, please.”

    “This activity involves a great commotion over an unimportant triviality.”

    “What is … tempest in a teapot?”


  3. Bryan Caskey

    It’s easy to respond to the woke mob, cancel culture folks. You just ignore them.

    They’ll be intensely passionate about whatever micro-aggression has occurred, but only for a micro second. After that, it’s on to the next shiny object.

    1. Guy

      What do we call those trying to oust Liz Cheney from her leadership post for Elise Stefanik? Cheney has a lifetime 80% grade to Stefanik’s 48% from Heritage Action and Cheney voted for Trump related bills 92.9% of the time to Stefanik’s 77.7%, according to 538. Cancel Culture is in the eye of the beholder…

      Conservatism, along with irony, is dead.

        1. Guy

          Agreed. Conservatism is as meaningless as “cancel culture” and “woke mob”, now.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            No, conservatism — that rare thing you don’t hear much about these days — is still meaningful, and respectable. As is liberalism.

            But neither term has anything to do with either the Trumpistas or the woke crowd, or their constant wars of words…

            For a conservative view, read George Will. He had a good piece today about our secretary of state, “Blinken’s admirable penchant for the long view“…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I like the Zhou Enlai story in Will’s column. He says it is “oft-told,” but I had not read of it before…

              He said that although current “indicators are not good” concerning China’s trajectory, it is well to remember the oft-told story of Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai’s answer when Henry Kissinger asked Zhou for his assessment of the 1789 French Revolution. It is, said Zhou, “too soon to say.” China’s archives show that Zhou was referring to the 1968 Paris riots, but Blinken’s citing of this story indicates an admirable penchant for the long view: It is too soon to give up on engagement with China….

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                I think the “oft-told” bit is Will’s way of saying, “Blinken told me this cool story that I want to share, but of course, of course, I was already familiar with it…”

                Or maybe everyone knew it but me…

      1. Barry

        The effort to cancel Liz Cheney by the anti cancel crowd is pretty rich.

        Liz is the poster woman for conservatism. The only thing she disagrees with Trump on is his lie about the electing being stolen from him. That’s it. Everything else she’s more conservative on than Trump.

        Stefanik, on the other hand, is a moderate. She originally won with moderate voters. She wouldn’t have a 1% chance of winning in South Carolina. She wouldn’t have a 1% chance of winning in any GOP primary except for the one where she lives in New York. (I realize 99.9% of Trumpers don’t know that fact because FOX, OAN, etc don’t mention those facts.

        BUT, she’s is a vocal proponent of the lie that Trump really won. That’s all that matters. It’s a cult.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author


          Cancel culture — the assembling of mobs to silence people, and punish them without due process — is a huge problem. And don’t anyone ever fall for the nonsense about it being practiced only on the left. You see it across the spectrum.

          It’s about the technology and what it’s done to people’s brains, more than the ideology…

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      It’s one thing to ignore one poor, deluded person who writes you a wacky note. But when we’re talking 600 Jeopardy winners, it becomes something that doesn’t fade away so easily.

      I wonder at the process they went through in drafting and releasing that. Surely SOME of the 600 saw the final product and thought, “WHOA! How did I get associated with this?”

      I just glanced at it and saw that Paul spared us the emotion over another dastardly crime of Donohue: He apparently said “gypsies” in response to something having to do with Roma people. Or maybe he said “pikeys.” I don’t know. The letter-writers were far, far too delicate to repeat such an awful word. They merely said… actually, let me give you a good-sized chunk of what they said, because the more of it I read, the more my mind is boggled:

      On Monday, April 26, Kelly responded to a clue with a term for the Roma that is considered a slur. The use of this term doesn’t necessarily indicate malice; until recently, it was widely used by English speakers. Current diversity style guides, however, suggest that it not be used, and that Roma or Romani be used instead. Host Anderson Cooper noted this on-air. However, many of us witnessed occasions in tapings of other episodes of the show where questionable responses or mis-speaking prompted a pause and re-recording of the dialogue. This probably would have been a good occasion to employ a similar fix. Yes, it may be an innocent or ignorant reply, and yes, it was technically correct….

      Yes, and you know that’s the point — to give a correct “question” for the “answer.” I now see why Paul had to keep interjecting responses to phrase after phrase, because this copy begs for it. I mean, you know, “until recently, it was widely used by English speakers?” Uh, yeah, and if I’m guessing correctly about which term you mean, it still IS…

      I also like the bit about “The use of this term doesn’t necessarily indicate malice…” Yeah, we could put this guy in a camp for a few months, and we’re sure he’d get his mind right. Then there’s the part regretting that the “fix” of retaping the segment had not been employed. Let’s see: Wasn’t that Winston Smith’s job in 1984 — changing the record so that certain things never happened?

      Anybody ever watch that sitcom that starred Norm Macdonald a few years back? It didn’t last long, but it was very funny. There was an episode in which Norm looks for a way to have a complaint to bring against his boss, and seizes upon the boss saying he felt “gypped” about something, so Norm has an indignant fit, claiming his Roma heritage has been insulted.

      It was funny, largely because Norm was so transparently phony in his outrage. But it was also funny because the “offense” was so mild, so easily dismissed. If the boss had done something truly offensive, it wouldn’t have worked.

      Now, I suppose that episode would generate a raging letter from 600 people…

      1. Norm Ivey

        I enjoyed that show, and not just because of the guy’s name. I don’t recall that episode, though.

        There’s an episode of South Park in which a character uses the N word while competing on Wheel of Fortune. It’s a disturbingly funny episodes that illustrates the impact the word has on people.

        I don’t normally recommend South park episodes, but that one is worth 30 minutes of your time.

    3. Barry

      I’m always amused by the “anti woke” folks and what they get upset about.

      I listened to a right wing show recently that is 100% “anti-cancel culture” and as soon as the guest started saying something that wasn’t “anti cancel culture enough” the guest was cut off and the segment ended.

      I saw a clip of a Fox News host asking a 6th grader guest a question and the 6th grader had something positive to say about Joe Biden and the Fox Host clearly didn’t like it and had to interject his opinion trying to “correct” the 6th grader’s opinion.

      I’m reminded of a school district in South Carolina that, a few years ago, had an effort to fire the superintendent because he was a “closet” anti-trumper. The effort failed because the superintendent was doing a solid job.

      and I won’t even get started on social media and how many efforts the “anti cancel culture/anti woke” crowd take to get people fired that don’t agree with them.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        “I’m always amused by the ‘anti woke’ folks and what they get upset about.”

        Well, of course.

        But that seems an odd reaction to a piece about how the woke folks went way out of their way to get worked up, huffy and self-righteous about nothing. The “anti-woke” only come into it for stepping in and taking a swing at it, which the people who signed the letter were pretty much begging for.

        Each side feeds on its own rage aimed at the other side. It’s pretty sickening, but apparently that is how they all validate themselves…

        1. Barry

          My reply was really to a comment, not really your article.

          I should have clarified.

  4. Bryan Caskey

    Speaking of California’s recall…what does everyone make of this?

    1. Guy

      Embarrassing. She recently said Newsom should fire some local D.A.s, not realizing they are all elected locally. She should understand basic state civics before pulling this BS.

      We are well past becoming an Idiocracy (thanks Mike Judge).

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Nothing. I make nothing of it.

      Although now that you mention it, I see that the last person to oust a sitting California governor in one of these farces (at least, I think he was the last one) has been quoted on this. Hopefully, he resisted the urge to call Jenner a “girlie man“…

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