Ouch! O'Malley's really gonna get it

Reprimand: You think the mayor was hard on the prosecutor? Wait till mom gets hold of Martin.

January 27, 2001|By Gary Dorsey | Gary Dorsey,SUN STAFF

Martin O'Malley, you are a naughty, naughty boy!

And when you come home from gallivanting with those football ruffians this weekend in Tampa, your mother will have a few choice words for you - though not of that vulgar sort you used Thursday in an ungodly display of bile and intemperance.

Mom will admonish you, Mr. Mayor.

"Oh, I certainly will," said an unamused Barbara O'Malley. The mayor's mother was provoked after reading in yesterday's newspaper her son's salty comments decrying a state's attorney's failure to prosecute a corruption case against a Baltimore police officer. "I don't think that kind of language is appropriate from anyone."

Mom understands the serious nature of the issue and realizes you felt strongly about a matter of genuine public concern. She knows you needed to speak firmly and authoritatively. But no, no, no, shame, shame, shame!

"I will talk to him," she pledged.

On the other hand, those blistering adjectives, more commonly heard spewing from the mouths of rock stars, boxers, sailors and football fans - words like &#? cents!! and #!*& cents% and g!!!*** - will not likely hobble your political ambitions or, in its heart of hearts, offend your core constituency, which probably felt the hot fizz an otherwise unreleased frustration expelled with each of those published vulgarities.

Face it, Mom, to many people's ears, the "&#? cents!!" and "#!*& cents%" probably sounded less like obscenities than like the untrammeled truth.

"If I was rooting for Mayor O'Malley to advance politically I couldn't have written a better script," said Richard Vatz, professor of rhetoric at Towson University.

"Politicians get in trouble if their comments are aimed at minorities or people who are perceived to be innocent victims. My guess is his outburst is not going to hurt him, but it will shore up his already considerable support substantially. When politicians get angry mirroring the public's anger, this is immediately forgiven. He might say I'm sorry, but this kind of language will not lose him any noticeable support. It will solidify it. In this case, people are angry with him."

In fact, the mayor was contrite yesterday, saying: "I apologize for using inappropriate language ... I do not, however, apologize for my outrage."

Like Peter Finch and his cathartic outburst against the machine in the movie "Network," - "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" - O'Malley's comments do not strike local profanity pundits as more or less offensive than typical expressions of annoyance heard every day on city streets and on television.

"I think in this day and age when people are inundated with that sort of language on television - and much, much worse language on records and on pay-per-view television and movies - this isn't going to be more than just a temporary blip on the radar screen," observed Donald Norris, professor of policy sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Maybe so. Maybe they have already forgiven you, Mr. Mayor. Maybe there are those who are celebrating your indiscretion. But one day soon you will stand in the face of judgment for that uncivil tongue and you may squirm. Mom is waiting, Martin O'Malley. Enjoy the sunshine while you can.

Sun staff writer Stephanie Shapiro contributed to this article.

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