Driving to work one morning last week I was listening to Sam Donaldson on a D.C. radio station. He was going to interview a former FBI profiler, he said, about the Washington-area sniper.
Donaldson casually referred to this killer as "he." Then he caught himself. If he is a "he," he said.
Poor Sam should be forgiven this sexist slip. He may have read the Washington Post that morning.
The Posts lead story on the killer that day was cast mostly in the passive voice. This was not because Post editors have never read the Elements of Style. I believe it was because they hated to ascribe any characteristic-like a sex-to the killer.
But in this case it proved impossible. A police bulletin, as the Post noted, had been issued for a second time in two weeks calling on law enforcement to "be on the lookout for a white van containing two men."
In discussing a tarot card-inscribed with the words "Mister Policeman, I am God"-that the killer left behind at an earlier shooting, the Post said the sniper had asked police not to reveal "his" message to the press.
A few paragraphs later, the paper broke down and called the killer a "gunman."
Still, Donaldson felt compelled to correct himself when he called the killer a "he." Who knows-maybe police should have been looking for a gunwoman.
Chalk this up as another ludicrous feminist victory. To be politically correct, we must pretend a marksman stalking our neighborhoods in a cargo van or truck, packing an assault rifle, could well be a retired 70-year-old female Kindergarten teacher.
Okay, so Janet Reno drives a truck. But that hardly makes her a killer.
This is not to say women are incapable of serial homicide. They certainly are. The same day Donaldson corrected himself, Florida executed Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute who shot and killed six men. "Her story," the Associated Press reported, "has been portrayed in two movies, three books and an opera."
The AP also called Wuornos "a rare female serial killer." But if AP were to report that the richest doctor in Miami is an obstetrician named Sue who does two thousand abortions a year, would anybody truly be surprised?
So what made it irresistible even for liberals to call this sniper a "he" before he had been positively identified as a he? There is no doubt about it: He acted like a guy, not a girl. His behavior bespoke peculiarly male characteristics-or at least perversions of male characteristics-that led instinctively to the conclusion he was a man.
The Post, to its credit, made this point in a piece that ran next to the jump of its largely de-sexed news report.
This piece gathered insights on the "gunman" from criminologists and profilers. The tarot card, these experts agreed, offered "insight into the state of mind of a man who is trying to establish power and dominance through his decisions about who will live and who will die." A similar state of mind, one suspects, rattled around inside the skulls of genocidal dictators such as Stalin and Hitler.
Former FBI profiler Robert K. Ressler said the sniper was saying, "Im the guy." Isnt that the same thing Saddam Hussein is saying in his perverse, and ultimately suicidal, pursuit of a nuclear weapon? I bet even Eleanor Smeal cannot imagine Saddam as a woman.
God did us a favor when he reserved this particular pathology to roughly half the human species.
Four days later, the sniper shot his 11th victim at a Home Depot in Falls Church, Va. This time there were witnesses. They gave conflicting accounts of the mans complexion, ethnicity and features. (Police even questioned the credibility of one witness.) But they all agreed on one thing.
Said Capt. Nancy Demme, a police spokeswoman: "The only common denominator thus far is male."
Sam Donaldson should be congratulated for slipping up and calling this sniper a "he" five days before his sex was nailed down by witnesses-when he emerged from the shadows to kill, and escape, again. The bureaucrats at the Department of Transportation would not have made Sams mistake. Theyre still on the lookout for 80-year-old ladies boarding planes with box cutters.