The season premiere of the television show, Desperate Housewives, on September 29, 2007 provoked controversy when one of the show’s punch lines took aim at the Filipino medical community. Teri Hatcher’s character, Susan, discusses with her doctor the possibility that she suffers from an early onset of menopause. Not pleased with his diagnosis of her condition, Ms. Hatcher quips that she would first like to check the doctor’s diplomas “to make sure they’re not from some med school in the Philippines.”
Not surprisingly, the Filipino-American medical community was highly offended by this remark.
As a Filipino-American and member of the Board of Governors of the Philippine American Bar Association (PABA), I was incredulous that such a remark could make it through network standards and practices. The remark was insensitive, stupid and, frankly, not funny. I wrote to convey PABA’s concerns to ABC’s President of Primetime Entertainment on October 4, 2007. You can view my letter here.
ABC has since issued an apology and promised to excise the offending remarks from future showings of this episode.
Not every member of the Filipino medical community has been placated by ABC’s actions. Some have called for legal action against ABC for “defamation.” As dumb and insensitive as the offending line may have been, equally dumb would be any litigation against the show or ABC. If ethnic groups or women could file litigation as a result of a negative portrayal of that group in the media, our already-overburdened court system would quickly collapse from the weight of the new cases.
I am all for taking ABC and the show to task for being insensitive and callous in their portrayal of the Filipino medical community. That is our right under the First Amendment. But any lawsuit would equally offend those principles — and would be counterproductive and a complete waste of resources. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail.
These are obviously my personal views and not necessarily those of my firm or my partners.