‘Jeopardy!’ enters absurd territory with dumbest controversy ever

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A: It’s when cancel culture meets political correctness — on opioids.

Q: What is “Jeopardy!”?

It’s come to this. A white man who innocently played the iconic TV quiz show has found himself on the wrong side of the torches and pitchforks wielded by a joyless mob.

An online tempest was unleashed against three-time “Jeopardy!” winner Kelly Donohue, a 35-year-old state bank examiner from Massachusetts. In addition to loopy messages of disgust, more than 500 people, and counting, identifying themselves as former “Jeopardy!” eggheads demanded an apology from Donohue and show producers for the alleged “white power” symbol the contestant supposedly flashed on TV — a claim that even Snopes, tracker of digital hoaxes and all manner of malfeasance, deemed “False.”

It never happened. But why ruin a good thought-crime scandal with pesky facts?

In a petition posted to Medium, purported ex-quiz contestants — people I thought possessed at least average intelligence — accused Donohue of expressing solidarity with white supremacy by putting his thumb and forefinger together in an “OK” gesture, with three fingers extended, and tapping his chest, palm-first. A bewildered Donohue claims he was only signaling that he’d won three games.

Not good enough!

Donohue’s hand position, “whether intentional or not, resembled very closely a gesture that has been co-opted by white power groups, alt-right groups, and an anti-government group that calls itself the Three Percenters,” the Medium letter claims, also blasting Donohue for posting to Facebook a cover photo of Frank Sinatra making a similar hand signal. As the insane uproar raged, Donohue either deleted it or made the picture private, along with his entire page.

There’s more.

“On Monday, April 26, [Donohue] responded to a clue with a term for the Roma that is considered a slur, ” the petition reads. The word is “Gypsy,” which guest host Anderson Cooper corrected to “Roma” or “Romani,” even as he accepted the term offered by the contestant. As the letter helpfully noted, “Gypsy” has only recently fallen off the PC list.

“We ask the writers to remove this word from their vocabulary when it’s not being used in the context of a title of an artwork or a direct quotation.”

The group carped that Donohue, even if he didn’t mean to, had signaled a “racist dog whistle” with his hand gesture, and pointed out that previous “Jeopardy!” tapings that included such things as wagers in amounts seen as containing sexual connotations or references to devil worship or hate groups — think of 69 or 666, for example — have been edited out of the show or reshot prior to airing.

Signatories of the petition were identified as “a diverse group of people.”

“People of color, religious minorities, and other marginalized groups already live in a United States and a Canada that have structural and institutional racism, sexism, antisemitism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia embedded into their history and function,” the document continues.

“These people deal with microaggressions nearly every day of their lives, through words, actions, and assumptions that remind them on a constant basis that they are not the default, they are not the mainstream, they are not ‘real citizens.’ ”

On Thursday morning, Donohue attempted to put an end to perhaps the loopiest scandal in television history. Essentially, he was forced to answer a question of the “Have you stopped beating your wife?” variety.

“I’m truly horrified with what has been posted about me on social media,” Donohue writes. “I absolutely, unequivocally condemn white supremacy and racism of any kind. People who know me personally know that I am not a racist, but for the public at large it bears repeating: I am not a racist and I reject and condemn white supremacy and all forms of bigotry for the evil they are. It’s shameful to me to think anyone would try to use the stage of ‘Jeopardy!’ to advance or promote such a disgusting agenda.”

He also wrote, “During the taping of my fourth episode, I was simply raising three fingers to mark my 3rd win. There was nothing more I was trying to indicate.”

But petition-signers are demanding that show producers address the brouhaha, and make sure the non-outrages never occur again. These days, it’s no good proving someone wrong — they still must have a scalp.

“Is the production team of ‘Jeopardy!’ prepared for more of this?” the Medium petition stated. “Prepared for more attempts to disguise contempt as innocent gesturing? Prepared for the backlash and ramifications should one of those moments ever become tied to real-world violence?”

It concluded, “Finally, we hope to see changes made so that future mistakes of this
magnitude never make it on air.”

A: A quiz show that soon no one will watch.

Q: What is happening to the “Jeopardy!” we once loved?

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