Brian Willoughby

Amish Show Goes Amiss

Last year, it was hillbillies. This year, it's the Amish. And once again, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves and entertainment giant Viacom are right in the middle of it.

UPN plans to air a reality TV show this summer tentatively titled "Amish in the City." Already a ripoff of another show's name -- "Sex in the City" -- the show plans to put five Amish youth, away from home for the first time, in the same house with five "mainstream American" youth.

The show would air on UPN -- the United Paramount Network -- this summer, building on the popularity of UPN's other reality offering, "America's Next Top Model." "Top Model" pits young women against each other in races to apply "smoky" eye makeup and other challenging stunts.

In his role at CBS, Moonves also oversees programming at UPN. Viacom, which reported $24.6 billion in revenues in 2002, owns both CBS and UPN. Moonves earned the ire of rural America last year when CBS moved forward with plans to produce a reality version of TV's "Beverly Hillbillies."

The Center for Rural Strategies led a campaign that included major newspaper ads condemning CBS. The campaign was supported by more than 50 organizations (including, 44 members of Congress and numerous national labor unions representing more than 4.5 million American workers -- all united against the "Hillbillies" idea. That campaign forced "Hillbillies" plans into inactivity at CBS.

One would think Moonves would have learned a lesson from the "Hillbillies" backlash. One would be wrong. At a recent press conference where the "Amish in the City" program was discussed, Moonves claimed the show "is not intended to be insulting to the Amish." He described the entertainment value of the program as watching Amish teens "freaked out by what they see" in the world outside their rural homes.

When asked why TV executives would want to expose a religious group to ridicule and risk changing the course of Amish youths' lives, Moonves delivered a punchline instead of an answer: "Well, we couldn't do 'The Beverly Hillbillies.'" Making the joke even more offensive, the CBS executive added that the Amish "don't have quite as good a lobbying effort" as the anti-"Hillbillies" group did.

Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies, coordinated last year's campaign and has weighed in on the latest flap as well, calling it "a new swipe at rural America."

"This time the executives are not just making fun of rural people for being poor; they are placing the religious faith and values of rural people in a fish bowl for comic effect," Davis said. "And if Viacom … succeeds in leading a few people into temptation and away from home and faith, well, I guess that's just show business."

According to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country Welcome Center, members of the Amish faith have settled in 22 states and Ontario, Canada. The largest and oldest settlement -- about 18,000 people -- is in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Amish eschew modern technology -- cars, telephones, television -- though exact rules vary from one church district to another. Generally speaking, they live simply and separately from mainstream America.

Creators of the planed UPN show claim to be modeling it after the real-life Amish ritual of "rumspringa," a Pennsylvania Dutch word that translates to "running around." But what the show plans to do -- present cloistered Amish youth with real-world temptations while under the constant glare of TV cameras -- has little to do with the actual rite of "rumspringa," a time when older teenagers explore the larger world more freely as they decide whether to be baptized into the Amish faith.

These teens rarely actually leave home during "rumspringa" -- and certainly not to a big city to live with other, non-Amish teens. An estimated 90 percent of teens choose baptism, usually between the ages of 18 and 22. Then they formally join the church as adults, vowing to maintain its rules.

Those who are protesting UPN's planned show want to expose it for what they see it is: A crass ratings-grab by television executives who don't mind mocking and stereotyping whole classes of people for laughs and profit.

Brian Willoughby is the Senior Writer and Editor at

Diversity at its Whitest

The methodology U.S. News & World Report uses for its annual "Campus Diversity" rankings may be race neutral, but the language accompanying it is not. In the widely read "America's Best Colleges," whites can never be a "minority" -- even on campuses where whites are in the minority.

In 130 "Campus Diversity" listings on Pages 55-56 of "America's Best Colleges" -- and hundreds more listings on the U.S. News website -- whites are never listed under the category "Largest minority and its percentage." Even if whites are the largest minority on campus, which is true for more than 60 schools, they remain the unspoken majority.

To how great an extreme is this carried?

Howard University in Washington, D.C., with a 20 percent white campus population, lists its "largest minority" as African American, with percent. Florida International University, with a 19 percent white campus population, lists its "largest minority" as Hispanic, at 60 percent. University of Hawaii, Manoa, with a 21 percent white campus population, lists its "largest minority" as Asian American, at 74 percent.

The list goes on, all the way up to 98 percent "minority" in some of the 60-plus cases. So the "majority race" rules, even on campuses where whites are in the minority.

"You're right about that," said Robert Morse, director of data research at U.S. News. "Your point is right, but you can debate your point." Morse said U.S. News' diversity rankings are done "from the context of the majority race. It's done from the context of what society, broadly speaking, generally considers a 'minority,' and what higher education calls a 'minority.'"

But what message does that send, when U.S. News -- arguably the bible of college rankings -- tacitly assumes white majority status on every campus? The solution seems simple: Why not list "white" as a minority on campuses where whites are, indeed, the largest minority? Morse, though, returns to his "societal" definition of minority.

That rankles Eddie Moore Jr., director of intercultural life at Central College in Pella, Iowa. "Caucasians are not always the majority," Moore said. "To know that and continue to use the power (of majority) to exclude others is supremacy. This is a blatant misuse of power to continue to benefit the most privileged minority on this planet."

For its so-called "diversity index," the U.S. News formula answers the straightforward question, "How likely is it for a student of any race or ethnicity to encounter a student of a different race or ethnicity on a given campus?"

Under the formula, a campus with equal populations of all categorized races and ethnicities would score a perfect "1" on the diversity index. A campus with a 100 percent population of any one race or ethnicity would score a zero. U.S. News' most diverse campuses score in the .60-.75 range.

Morse calls the formula "race-neutral," which it is. But the mindset that created the terminology surrounding the presentation of this data certainly is not. The issue is not the math or methodology; the issue is the tacit acceptance that whites should always be considered a majority.

In print and online, only African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and American Indians -- never whites -- are listed under the heading "Largest minority and its percentage" for each campus.

This affects any school where a racial or ethnic group other than white is the majority. In all, more than 60 schools nationally are affected by this shortsighted terminology; each of them lists a "minority" that actually holds majority status on campus.

Even more schools would be affected, but dozens of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have a historical pattern of not providing racial and ethnic data to U.S. News. (Ironically, the only HBCU to make the shorter, print-edition "Campus Diversity" list is Lincoln University in Missouri -- which has become a majority white school.)

"Certainly in most places in the country outside the historically black college world, African Americans are considered a minority group," Morse said. "Only in a small world -- and maybe neighborhoods, school systems that aren't integrated ... yes, churches." Morse trailed off, paused, then added, "Blacks in the world of higher education are considered minorities. We're on firm ground (with this terminology)."

Paul Kivel, author of Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, disagrees. "White people often refer to the common usages and practices of other white people to justify racism, not realizing that this just proves the point that they are using a white-centered frame of reference," Kivel said.

He added, "The 'firm ground' [U.S. News] claims to stand on is shifting dramatically."

Intolerance In a Time of War

And so it begins, the intolerance of war.

Already this week, even before the bombs began dropping, it had reared its ugly head.

Consider an incident in the Houston area, where a woman of French descent who has lived in the United States for 23 years, a retired real estate agent, found these words spray-painted in red on her garage door: "Scum go back to France."

The words are part of a wave of anti-France animosity, based on France's refusal to support our nation's unilateral march toward war.

Francoise Thomas discovered the words Saturday morning. Some neighbors rallied to her side, painting over the hateful graffiti and bringing Thomas flowers and chocolates. She and others wonder if a neighbor did it. Who else, they ask, know Thomas is from France?

Suspicion, backlash, anger and fear. These are the homeland insecurities that surround us in times of war.

Muslims will feel it. Arab-Americans will feel it. Peace activists will feel it. The divides that separate us will be drawn into sharper relief. What can be done, what can you do, to bridge those divides?

Lessons of 9/11

If 9/11 taught us anything, it taught us that our biases are emboldened in times of stress and pain.

Statistics gathered from various sources by the U.S. Department of Justice make it clear that heightened fears bring heightened stereotypes:

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PETA Sparks Outrage with Holocaust Comparison

Nobody ever accused PETA of being timid, but the animal-rights group's latest media campaign has sparked more than the usual antagonism.

In side-by-side photographic images, PETA -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- directly compares farm-animal slaughter to the extermination of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. The display, titled "Holocaust on your Plate," was launched in February on the West Coast, drawing immediate outrage. It consists of eight 60-square-foot panels, each showing photos of factory farms next to photos from Nazi death camps.

An example from the "Holocaust on Your Plate" exhibit: Under the headline "Baby Butchers," PETA shows an image of children behind bars in a concentration camp next to a pen filled with pigs.

Numerous Jewish groups are outraged, including the Anti-Defamation League and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. They say PETA has trivialized the deaths of millions in an effort to generate publicity for its cause.

Individuals, too, are finding fault with the display.

"I was absolutely horrified," said Daniel Zur, a senior at Arizona State University, where PETA's traveling exhibit was displayed this week. Zur, 23, is Jewish and lost 17 family members in the Holocaust.

"Comparing the killing of animals for food to all those millions -- not just Jews, but Gypsies and Christians and others -- making that comparison between the two is humiliating, disgusting and tasteless," Zur said.

Fred S. Zeidman, Holocaust museum chairman, echoed such comments, calling PETA's campaign "utterly shameless and contemptible."

In a letter to PETA President Ingrid Newkirk, Stuart Bender, legal counsel for the Holocaust Memorial Museum, asked PETA to "cease and desist this reprehensible misuse of Holocaust materials." Bender went on to say, "PETA's exploitation of these materials (is) a gross perversion of our mission."

To date, PETA has refused to cease and desist. PETA claims use of the photos is "the very type of speech against exploitation and oppression that (the museum) is supposedly designed to foster and protect."

PETA Touts Jewish Roots to Campaign

PETA has the support of some Jews and at least one religious organization. Its website includes supportive comments from a handful of Jewish members of various organizations, as well as excerpts of writings from animal-friendly Jewish authors.

At press time, PETA even included supportive-sounding words from the Holocaust museum on its "What Others Say" Web page, when that organization stands squarely opposed to the exhibit. PETA touts its campaign as being rooted in the words of award-winning author and Holocaust survivor Isaac Beshevis Singer, who wrote, "To animals, all people are Nazis. For them it is an eternal Treblinka."

But do those words make it acceptable for PETA to put an image of a pile of human bodies in a concentration camp next to a pile of bodies of pigs at a factory farm under the headline, "The Final Indignity?" Or to display a picture of men on wooden bunks at a death camp next to a picture of chickens in cages?

The ADL certainly doesn't think so. That organization calls PETA's requests for support from Jewish groups "outrageous, offensive and taking chutzpah to new heights."

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the ADL and a Holocaust survivor, issued a statement calling PETA's new campaign "abhorrent."

"Abusive treatment of animals should be opposed, but cannot and must not be compared to the Holocaust," Foxman said. "The uniqueness of human life is the moral underpinning for those who resisted the hatred of Nazis."

PETA seems to welcome such controversy.

A statement on the PETA website offers this comment from Lewis G. Regenstein, who is Jewish and represents the Interfaith Council for the Protection of Animals and Nature in Atlanta, Ga.:

"PETA's current 'Holocaust on your Plate' campaign is generating a great deal of attention and controversy (which, of course is its purpose -- to make people aware of the massive suffering of animals caused by our meat-centered diet)."

Even more inflammatory were comments made by Bruce Friedrich, a PETA executive, speaking at a national animal-rights conference in 2001:

"If we really believe animals have the same right to be free from pain and suffering at our hands, then of course we're going to be blowing things up and smashing windows," Friedrich said, adding, "I think it would be great if all of the fast-food outlets, slaughterhouses, these laboratories, and the banks that fund them, exploded tomorrow."

Those words were included in the Fall 2002 edition of the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Intelligence Report," as part of an article about tactics of extremist animal-rights groups, focusing on the Animal Liberation Front and the Environmental Liberation Front.

The crass juxtaposition of photos seems tame in comparison to such calls for violence, certainly, but Friedrich's words and PETA's refusal to stop using Holocaust images to "raise awareness" about animal abuse indicate a certain desire to revel in controversy.

So PETA says it is promoting "the long Jewish tradition of kindness to animals," while the ADL, the Holocaust Memorial Museum and others say PETA is trivializing the 20th century's worst case of genocide.

Exhibit Finds Lively Protest in Arizona

Last week, the PETA campaign was a war mostly of words and website postings. This week, it hit the ground.

PETA's exhibit was displayed at Arizona State University in Tempe, leading to numerous complaints and near fisticuffs.

Zur, the senior religious studies major at ASU, was among those surprised to find the exhibit standing outside the student services center.

He and others predicted PETA will lose support, rather than gaining it, by using images that offend people who otherwise might stand behind the issues PETA promotes.

"I've been an animal lover my whole life, but I don't support this forceful, tasteless kind of exhibit," Zur told

Other protesters chose more forceful complaints. One student tore down one of the photos and engaged in what the newspaper described as "a minor shoving match" with PETA representatives.

Rabbi Barton G. Lee of ASU's Hillel Jewish Student Center viewed the exhibit. He calls PETA's animal-human juxtaposition "invidious."

"This points out the problems of fanaticism," Lee told "People can insult, hurt and disparage human life ... just to get attention for their cause. The irony is, it defeats the cause; they get attention, but they don't get support."

Brian Willoughby is the senior writer of