John Gapper Chirpy gay liberalgate

Oh dear. I seem inadvertently to have fallen into a transatlantic cultural and linguistic divide with my line about Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC host, being a “chirpy gay liberal” in my column this week.

Those three words were picked out by the Huffington Post (you can’t trust the media) and set off a firestorm of protest among its indignant readers. I have also received quite a lot of fierce emails accusing me of insensitivity, homophobia, stupidity, jealousy, ignorance etc.

The last time I looked, there were 500 comments on HuffPo and some of them were not very nice about me. In view of this, and the comments on my blog item below, perhaps I ought to provide some explanation.

The truth is that I did not think about it much. I wanted a quick description of Ms Maddow, since she is the newest of the television talk show hosts whom I mentioned, and the phrase seemed to sum up her brand for those living outside the US.

For many US readers, there were two problems with this.

One is the meaning of the word “chirpy”. To me, and to most British people, chirpy means lively and fun. I used it because one of Ms Maddow’s appealing qualities is that she is humorous and cheerful, a welcome contrast of the self-aggrandising, bombastic style of various of her male counterparts (I will not mention any names, for fear of yet more emails).

Unfortunately, a lot of US readers seem to have taken chirpy to mean bird-brained and irritating, so they got annoyed. That was not what I meant.

The second problem was my describing her as gay when I did not mention the sexuality of anyone else in the piece (or indeed my own). In fact, Ms Maddow is gay, and openly so, as noted in some recent articles about her, including this one in the New York Times.

I included it because I thought it said something interesting about the US culture wars (yes, the ones that I strayed into) that a gay woman was now one of the most popular talk show hosts on American television.

Incidentally, for a further example of how the description would not be considered offensive in Britain, see this piece, entitled “Gay TV host is liberal queen of US news” in The Observer, the British (liberal) newspaper.

I hope that this explanation helps.