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Commentary: The 2007 George Orwell Awards

By Gary Earl Ross


Buffalo, NY – Greetings, NPR listeners! It's time again to honor the hypocrisy and fallibility, both human and political, depicted in Animal Farm and 1984 with this year's George Orwell Awards. The golden piglet statuettes are fatter than ever, with blood diamonds for eyes, clogged briefcases for hearts, and the Paul Wolfowitz human resources team underwriting production.

Named after Animal Farm's tireless workhorse, the Boxer Award goes to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for his relentless pursuit of nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and military significance on the world stage. Unfortunately, he has yet to realize it will take more than a strut, a smirk, kidnapped sailors, and the nuclear equivalent of a flintlock pistol to bring the West to its knees. But keep plugging, buddy. Hey, you never know.

The Snowball's Chance Award, named for the idealistic pig run off Animal Farm by the dictator's dogs, goes to Rudy Giuliani, who may be America's mayor but will never be America's president. Somebody please tell the divorced, law-and-order, pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-gun control, cross-dressing Republican that conservatism in a blue state differs a bit from conservatism in a red state, especially after a bad bet like Bernie Kerik.

The winner of the Newspeak Doublethink Award from 1984 is Mitt Romney, the pro-choice, pro-gay rights former governor of Massachusetts who is now an anti-abortion, anti-gay rights presidential candidate.

After a tough five-way fight that featured General Peter Pace ranting against gays in the military, Senator Joseph Biden saying that Barack Obama is the first articulate and clean African-American presidential hopeful, broadcaster Nancy Grace harassing a woman into suicide, and Durham DA Mike Nifong publicly trying the Duke lacrosse team rape case with scanty evidence, the Thoughtcrime Award goes to shock jock Don Imus. For sheer thoughtless arrogance, nothing beats calling a Cinderella basketball team "nappy-headed ho's." Nothing.

Staving off a challenge from Jerry Falwell, who gave an adultery dispensation to Newt Gingrich, the Reverend Al Sharpton is the sympathetic winner of this year's Moses the Raven Sugarcandy Mountain Award. First, Sharpton's response to Senator Biden was simple: "I take a bath every day." But then Sharpton learned his ancestors were owned by those of Strom Thurmond. Seeking a DNA test to determine whether the Sharpton-Thurmond relationship is more than business, Rev. Al may have a new twist on Am I my brother's keeper?

This year's Big Brother Award goes to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, for the FBI's illegal use of the Patriot Act and the politically motivated firings of eight U.S. attorneys. "Mistakes were made!" Gonzales declared, with the support of President Bush, who promised Gonzales would get to the bottom of the problem, even as White House involvement unfolded and e-mails disappeared by the millions. Attorney, prosecute thyself.

The Napoleon, named for the self-important pig dictator, seemed a shoe-in for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for his relentless attacks on hapless previous Orwell recipient George W. Bush. But then Anna Nicole Smith died and Britney Spears shaved her head on her way into rehab, and the American media, ever vigilant for those stories that affect us most deeply, went into overdrive to keep us informed. Boy, do we owe them for that.

Finally, in a tight contest that saw the elimination of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, the Grand Orwellian goes to Russian president Vladimir Putin, sitting like a sphinx atop a growing mound of bodies belonging to dissidents, journalists, refugees, and others who oppose or question his policies. A word to my friends: if my body plunges from a great height and a bag of tangerines is found spilled on my stairs, rest assured that I did not jump.

Gary Earl Ross is a professor at the UB Educational Opportunity Center.