Conan O’Brien has been making some pretty rough jokes about Newark, which has led to a (mostly) mock feud between the late-night host and Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
O’Brien joked that the mayor was establishing a program to improve the health of the city’s residents, then deadpanned: “The health care program would consist of a bus ticket out of Newark.”
He did a video bit in which he praised the city’s “thriving arts scene” (while showing a graffiti-scarred wall); its “four-star lodging” (shots of abandoned, gutted, rusting vehicles); and its “world-class live theater” (a peep show).
He threatened to form an alliance with the mayors of nearby municipalities, thus “creating a geographic toilet seat around the city of Newark,” making it possible to flush the city down the figurative bowl.
The mayor came up with his own YouTube videos in response and, believe it or not, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton weighed in at one point as a mock peace negotiator.
Conan seems like a nice fellow, and I doubt that he harbors any malice toward Newark. But he and his audience are having fun taunting a city that, like many others across the U.S., is in a desperately tragic situation: poverty-stricken, run down, often unsafe, its children and teenagers in too many instances going nowhere fast.
Whether it’s Newark, Detroit, parts of Chicago, South-Central Los Angeles, Camden, N.J. — take your pick — we’ve looked the other way for decades as the residents of hard-core inner-city neighborhoods struggled with overwhelming, life-threatening problems and a chronic shortage of resources, financial and otherwise.