Enquirer Fans Pseudo-Controversy Over Fountain Square Poem

Cincinnatians are so easily outraged. And distracted.

Several days after poet Nikki Giovanni used a (gasp) curse word in reciting a poem at Fountain Square’s reopening Saturday, The Cincinnati Enquirer weighed in on the pseudo-controversy yesterday with a large front-page story under the headline, “Poet out of bounds, group says.”

Giovanni, a Cincinnati native, called GOP gubernatorial candidate and former Mayor Ken Blackwell “a son of a bitch” in her remarks before hundreds of onlookers at Saturday’s event, and also referred to Blackwell as “a political whore.”

It was an impolite comment in a city that values politeness above — and nearly to the exclusion — of all other virtues.

Any debate over the appropriateness of Giovanni’s comments at a civic event or before an all-ages crowd doesn’t warrant this level of attention or scrutiny days later. In tried-and-true fashion, however, The Enquirer reverts to its role as the city’s “elderly spinster aunt” and devotes an above-the-fold article to the non-event, taking three reporters and 26 paragraphs to tell the tale.

It’s not until page A6 that The Enquirer decides to give its readers any news about the ongoing and bloody war in Iraq, in a 10-paragraph article.

In the Giovanni article, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC), Fountain Square’s new manager and operator, assures readers that it didn’t know ahead of time what Giovanni was planning to say and that the agency believes the comments were inappropriate.

Apparently, 3CDC — which has been touting how “hip” and “edgy” the events planned for Fountain Square will be — doesn’t want them to be too hip or too edgy. (Note to event planners: Whenever something is described as hip and edgy, it almost inevitably isn’t.)

Amid all the hand-wringing, readers also learn that City Councilman Chris Monzel thinks the remarks were “crass” and that an Xavier University professor believes the poem was “klutzy” and lost any integrity when Giovanni used the foul language. I feel so enlightened.

Hoping perhaps to generate more articles on the topic, an Enquirer reporter Tuesday afternoon asked Mayor Mark Mallory to comment on Giovanni’s poem during his weekly press briefing. Mallory placed the event into perspective.

“I choose to reflect on the entirety and not just a couple of seconds on that day,” Mallory said. “I don’t think her poem is going to set any sort of precedent or any sort of new rules (for events on Fountain Square). It was what it was, and it was a beautiful day.”

— Kevin Osborne

(Editor’s Note: The Enquirer follows with another prominent front-page article today on the non-tempest, announcing “Giovanni unapologetic about poem.” Among the “news” gems offered in this piece are that her remarks have “created a firestorm of criticism and controversy” [how did that happen?], that Ken Blackwell’s spokesman “doesn’t care about Giovanni” [so much for compassionate conservatism] and that Fraternal Order of Police Vice President Keith Fangman has added “Poetry Critic” and “Event Planner” to his long and distinguised resume.)

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7 Comments on “Enquirer Fans Pseudo-Controversy Over Fountain Square Poem”

  1. Breen Says:

    When I saw the news reports the next night, which immediately called it a controversy (though this was well before anyone had actually commented about it), I thought, “Wow, how can someone practicing freedom of speech on a PUBLIC square cause a ‘controversty.'” Thanks, media.

    People in this town often seem eager to change Cincinnati’s image and one of our main image problems is the consistent news about how officials supress artistic expression. If you don’t like it, how about just saying, “I disagree, but she has every right to say what she said”? The pseudo-controversy is another sad day for our city.

  2. CincyRealityCheck Says:

    Thank you Kevin! This city gets its undies in a bunch over the lamest crap. Those kids in the audience have NEVER heard swear words issue from the mouths of their parents or siblings, in movies, on cable TV, in songs on CDs or read them on the Internet or in books or magazines? Yeah, riiiight! Just because you PRETEND it doesn’t happen, doesn’t make it true.

    Quit hiding behind “protecting the poor, innocent children” and deal with reality. Cincinnatians want to talk about and rip on politicians as much as anyone else but not appear to look so unkind or impolite – as Kevin points out.

    And you wonder why people who didn’t grow up here (present company included) or live here think this place is backwater? This kind of stuff is a perfect example.

    Two front-page stories about a poet calling a politician a bad name in a public place during an election season – get a grip. Where are the front-page stories about the implications of legalizing gambling and what is says about cops supporting an activity that will increase crime?

  3. WestEnder Says:

    Stuffy white guys in suits don’t like black chicks talking trash. That’s basically the gist of it. 3CDC got offended and the Enquirer printed their beef. Remember the Enquirer’s publisher is on the 3CDC board.

    I’m not a stuffy white guy, but I’m not a big fan of cursing in public. A community’s tacit agreement not to curse in public is hardly an infringement on free speech. IMHO, she was out of line.

    I also have to wonder what kind of “poet” she is to not be able to come up with anything less trite and abjectly unpoetic as trash talking. Are prisoners, athletes and election year ad writers all poets now?

  4. Jim Says:

    Agreed. It isn’t front-page worthy. Perhaps it isn’t blog-worthy either. Dry fart on a windy day. However, if I may go off on a tangent here, it brings to mind the Aesop fable about the scorpion who talks the frog into carrying him on his back across the river. Upon dry land on the other side, the scorpion stings the frog and as the frog lies dying, the scorpion explains that it is “his nature”. Should the silly frog have expected gratitude from the scorpion? She is what she is. My memory of the day is the rising of the colorful balloons.

  5. John Fox Says:

    What’s blog-worthy and coverage-worthy here, I think, is trying to figure out who benefits from fanning the flames of this non-controversy. Obviously certain people are upset that Ken Blackwell was slandered — most of the business types behind 3CDC support Republican candidates and thus aren’t happy that Blackwell got whacked. As WestEnder points out, Enquirer Publisher Margaret Buchanan is on 3CDC’s board (a member of their executive committee, in fact) and The Enquirer likely will endorse Blackwell for governor — as publisher, Buchanan oversees the paper’s editorial board.

    What if Los Lobos had mentioned Sherrod Brown’s record on immigration reform or Talib Kweli had jabbed Ted Strickland’s record on No Child Left Behind at the Fountain Square concert — would 3CDC or The Enquirer be making such a big deal? I doubt it. Nikki Giovanni picked the wrong person to criticize in Cincinnati at a corporate-backed event.

    I’m concerned that, by whipping this poem non-controversy into a “firestorm,” as The Enquirer calls it, the Powers That Be are setting the precedent for issuing apologies for controversial remarks on Fountain Square and may already be laying the groundwork for cutting off future Fountain Square proceedings that might be controversial — and the thing had been reopened for less than a day.

    For a much broader and more positive look back at the wonderful events of Oct. 14 on Fountain Square, read Mike Breen’s remarks as well as Rick Pender’s review of the daytime events in the comments section here: https://citybeat.wordpress.com/2006/10/16/fountain-opening-showcases-best-of-cincy/

  6. Eugene Says:

    On Saturday, Cincinnati unveiled it’s new Fountain Square, poet Nikki Giovanni read her latest work “I am Cincinnati”, in the poem, she said

    “I am not a son of a bitch like Kenny Blackwell, I will not use the color of my skin to cover the hatred in my heart. I am not a political whore jumping from bed to bed to see who will stroke my knee.””
    I say good for Ms. Giovanni, she had something to say and she said it. If you didn’t like it, get over yourself, really. Out of the entire day you heard a few seconds of something that made you uncomfortable, whoopty-do!
    Some people have said it was the wrong time and the wrong place, but 3CDC wants the square to be an exciting place, and what a great way to kick it off. If Ms. Giovanni had waited for the “right time/right place” what would that have done? She would have been talking to a bunch of like minded people, and that’s no way to a stand, it’s just preaching to the choir. If your going to take a stand, it’s better to be the only person standing, if not, you’re just in a room with a bunch of standing people, and what’s the point in that?
    If it made people uncomfortable, they’ll get over it, and if not, they’ll have something to talk about next weekend instead of what they watched on TV, or that time they got really drunk at the Oktoberfest.
    As far as addressing our past (and still lingering racial issues) what was she suppose to do? Pretend it didn’t happen? Act like we didn’t have a race riot? It’s a part of our history now, nothing wrong with that, as long as we’re moving forwarded and trying to make Cincinnati a better place. You can’t pretend the city is something it isn’t. We still have a lot of work to do, but if people don’t talk about it, people aren’t going to know that work needs to get done.
    It’s a hard thing to stand up in front of people and say something they don’t want to hear, I think if more did it, this world would be a better place.
    Hey, at least she didn’t call Blackwell a gay bashing homophobe! Now that would have gotten people talking.

  7. MC Says:

    Another non-issue taking up space in the Enquirer.

    Most readers don’t give a damn about the Fountain Square redo, the re-opening or who spoke. We care even less about who is in a dither about Giovanni. (Hey, guess what? We also don’t care about fashion tips from pro-athletes, articles about shopping, the rants from Pete Bronson and a whole lot of other useless, inane crap the Enquirer prints.) The Fountain Square move did cost a lot of money and will have no effect on downtown. What a surprise.

    The lack of clue from elected officials does piss off a lot of us. The idiocy of our esteemed leaders has cost us jobs and income. Now, that is a topic that a lot of people care about. We should get angry about that. Maybe we should write the Enquirer about it.

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