SOPHISTICATED WIT CORNER: Perhaps I've misjudged James Taranto. My colleague Chuck Freund suggests that The Wall Street Journal's house blogger may have "taken the phrase 'Arab basher' as a descriptive moniker, similar to 'Italian stallion,' and thus would have prefered Jesse to have called him a 'Turk basher.'" Reader Jim Ancona agrees, commenting that "the way I read it, James Taranto was making a play on words." And John Tabin writes that Taranto was being "deadpan."
Maybe so. When the article Taranto disliked was in galleys, I actually argued for hyphenating the phrase "Arab-basher," precisely because it might otherwise be misconstrued in that manner. My suggestion was rejected on the grounds that no one could possibly be that stupid. It didn't occur to us that someone might be bright enough to understand what I meant, yet thick enough to think there was a clever play on words to be made.
I had forgotten about Taranto's peculiar sense of humor. The one time I met him, it reared its head when someone mentioned the black comic George Wallace. Taranto perked up and commented, in a voice that was far from deadpan, "Are you sure that George Wallace is a black man? I thought he was a segregationist." To this day, he probably believes he's the first person to have noticed that the two men share a name.
I replied, incidentally, with a weak joke about "the gangsta rapper, MC Lestor Maddox." Taranto stared blankly at me, and I realized with discomfort that he thought I was being serious.