The Washington Post's Bill Donohue problem

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Yesterday, the Washington Post once again turned its web site over to right-wing bigot and Catholic League president Bill Donohue, giving him an unmoderated online Q&A session with Post readers. Quite predictably, Donohue took the opportunity to mislead his audience.

Here's Donohue on a Smithsonian exhibit he doesn't like:

It was hate speech, pure and simple, and it should not be funded by the 80 percent of the nation which is Christian.

it wasn't. It was funded with private donations.

But recognizing that basic reality would leave Donohue without anything to fulminate about, so he kept suggesting throughout the Q&A that government funds paid for the exhibit:

  • "If someone wants to peddle hate speech disguised as art, let them do it on their own dime."
  • "I have never called for censorship, but I have asked legitimate questions regarding the propriety of funding hate speech directed at my religion."

The Post could have ensured its readers weren't misled by Donohue's statements had it simply included in its brief introduction of the Q&A a sentence noting that the Smithsonian does not use public funds for exhibits. It chose not to do so, despite the fact that it was entirely predictable that Donohue would make such claims. In other words, the Washington Post chose to allow Donohue to mislead its readers. In other words, the Washington Post chose to mislead its readers.

Later in the Q&A, Donohue told another whopper: "I never asked for the vile video to be pulled. But quite frankly, if museums were privately funded, then much controversy could be avoided." Donohue's implication that he wouldn't have complained about the exhibit had it took place in a privately-owned art gallery is, at best, disingenuous. Donohue regularly attacks his lengthy list of private-sector enemies, as a quick glance at his recent press releases makes clear.

Obviously, the Washington Post has no qualms about granting a platform to an unrepentant bigot; they've hosted Donahue and others like him frequently. Anti-gay and anti-Muslim bigots, in particular, enjoy a warm welcome at the Post, which pretty clearly says something about the newspaper. And just as obviously, the Post doesn't mind if people use the platform it grants them to mislead Post readers. But there's yet another reason why Donohue was a spectacularly poor choice: He quite obviously had no interest in engaging with Post readers in an honest discussion, which would seem to be the whole point of these Q&A sessions.

Here, for example, is Donohue's response to a reader who asked "How do you define the difference between art and anything that might be deemed offensive? The very nature of art is expression and individuality":

William Donohue: People in the asylum are expressive as well, and so are children in nursery schools. Should we subidize them as well?

This exchange similarly demonstrates that Donohue had no interest in a thoughtful exchange of views with Post readers; he just wanted to lash out:

Washington, D.C. : David Wojnarowicz's video was set in the days of the AIDS epidemic. He had been thrown out of his home when he came out, and had to survive in the streets. His art was about alienation, despair, rebellion and survival. When placed in context, you can see that this was not an assault on the Christian faith. Why do you deny us the opportunity for a conversation? The whole point of this exhibit was to confront and try to look behind the veil, not to change points of view but show that there other points of view.

William Donohue: Someone should have gotten to him earlier and told him to stop with his self-destructive behavior and to stop blaming the faithful for his maladies.

Donohue has previously denounced the "gay death style" and complained "The gay community has yet to apologize to straight people for all the damage that they have done." At this point, I should remind you that the Washington Post chose to grant him a platform on World AIDS Day.

Even more telling than the Washington Post's repeated decisions to grant a hate-merchant like Donohue a platform is the paper's refusal to acknowledge that Donohue himself is a controversial figure with a history of hateful comments, even as it quotes him denouncing what he describes as bigoted and hateful attacks on Catholics.

If you search for "Donohue AND Catholic League" in the Washington Post and source folders on Nexis, you'll get 67 hits dating back to 1994, including dozens of articles mentioning or quoting Donohue and several letters to the editor from him. What you won't find is a single Post mention of Donohue -- not one -- that describes him as a controversial figure, or that quotes or even refers to his own history of inflammatory hate speech. The Post regularly quotes Donohue's denunciation of things he claims are hateful, offensive, or bigoted, but in doing so, it never mentions his own pattern of such comments. Never.

It's difficult to come to any conclusion but that the Washington Post just doesn't think there's anything objectionable about Bill Donohue's history of inflammatory rhetoric. Or about Donohue misleading its readers.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination
The Washington Post
Bill Donohue
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