News BitesGimps

The Peanut Gallery

"A hilarious example of government micromanaging," syndicated columnist Clarence Page called it. "Peanut panic" read a local headline. Slate, the online magazine, called it the work of a "Peanut Czar."

There were hundreds (maybe thousands) of news items about a recent FAA regulation which, thanks to the Americans with Disbilities Act, was requiring that accommodation be made on flights to people who have nut allergies. It was the September media joke to rival the Lewinsky stain. You'd have to live on Pluto not to have heard the fallout.

This time people faced with the deadly allergies responded, calling columnists and firing off irate letters explaining the truth that the news media couldn't bother to report, so intent were they on making it tops on their laugh-o-meters.

Gradually, newspaper inch by newspaer inch, some apologies were issued. Letters to the editor appeared. An editor admited it was a "modest regulation" after all. Yet none of this explaining and apologizing was worth a peanut to the damage done.

Clarence Page's apology sheds light on what caused the problem in the first place: lack of understanding about the ADA's principles. "After all, I reasoned, if nuts are that bad for some people, why not ban them for all people? If they aren't, then why bother?" Rather than check the facts, writers like Page would rather joke about it.

Apologies only get us so far. There's still little understanding. The apologies don't focus on the justice of the matter--but how tragic it is to have a peanut allergy. Of course we want to "help," say the apologists.

Not enough.

A day late, a life cut short

When I was called by a local gay rights activist to attend a candlelight vigil for Matt Shepard, the young gay college student beaten to death in early October in a hate crime, I found myself thinking of another Matt as I hung up the phone: Matt Johnson, a Santa Cruz guy about the same age as Shepard. Made a quad in a motorcycle accident August a year ago, he was killed by Jack Kevorkian less than nine months later. A story in the San Jose County Sentinel reported that he'd begged and pleaded Med-Cal to deliver his motorized wheelchair, but bureaucratic red tape kept it from him month after month. It finally arrived at a San Jose dealer for delivery--a day after he'd gotten Jack to kill him.

"He would say, 'I don't want to be a burden on everyone, but I don't want to be put in a home,'" said his friend Tim Jones.

" Politicians, including President Clinton, joined [gay rights] activists yesterday in urging tougher hate-crime laws after a beating that left a gay college student near death," began an Associated Press article the Sunday before Shepard's death. The candlelight vigil made front-page news in our paper the next day; two more stories in our local paper tracked national outrage over the death and its significance. National news gave the death repeated coverage.

Two deaths: one, rightly, prompts national cries of outrage and media attention. The other death is questioned by few. Only one reporter at one newspaper asks "Why?" New Mobility editor Barry Corbett says a NM staffer saw the story in the Santa Cruz local paper and decided it needed more play. Other than that, silence.


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