Last week, ABC played a video clip of Rush Limbaugh accusing “libs” of “prejudice” -- without noting Limbaugh's own voluminous history of outright bigotry.
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Last week, ABC played a video clip of Rush Limbaugh accusing “libs” of “prejudice” -- without noting Limbaugh's own voluminous history of outright bigotry.
ABC gave Rush Limbaugh a forum to accuse liberals -- all of them -- of “prejudice.”
Keep in mind, Rush Limbaugh “resigned” in (further) disgrace from his job at ABC's sister network, ESPN, after making what ESPN described as “insensitive and inappropriate” comments about an African-American NFL quarterback.
But ABC rewards Limbaugh with airtime in which he accuses liberals of prejudice, without noting his own history. Not even a mention. Not even a vague, passing mention of the fact that some people find Limbaugh himself a bit prejudiced. Certainly no mention that Limbaugh once told an African-American caller to "take that bone out of your nose" and insisted that women "actually wish" for sexual harassment and announced "A Chavez is a Chavez. We've always had problems with them."
To ABC, none of that is worth mentioning when it airs Limbaugh's accusations of liberal “prejudice.”
It's bad enough that major media outlets insist on pretending that Limbaugh has a place in rational discourse. (The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz memorably called him a "mainstream conservative.") But airing Limbaugh's accusation of “prejudice” on the part of his ideological opposites without making even passing mention of his own bigotry? Simply incredible.
And this is from ABC -- a network whose political director, Mark Halperin, insists that the media have to “prove to conservatives that we understand their grievances” and that "[i]f I were a conservative, I understand why I would feel suspicious that I was not going to get a fair break at the end of an election. We've got to make sure we do better, so conservatives don't have to be concerned about that. It's just -- it's not fair."
Unfortunately, ABC's reliance on Rush Limbaugh as an authority on prejudice in others was only prelude to the absurdity that came this week.
Right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin -- who, it is important to keep in mind, has ties to a website that publishes white nationalist writings and who wrote a book titled In Defense of Internment -- began criticizing two bloggers recently hired by Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards' campaign, describing the bloggers' previous writings as “foul-mouthed nutroots diatribes” and “lunatic blogging” and “unhinged.” Malkin, fresh off an unsuccessful smear campaign she waged against the Associated Press, pursued the bloggers with her typical zeal, even going so far as to post on her site a video in which she performed a dramatic reading of several blog posts.
Malkin's assault on the bloggers was joined on February 6 by National Review Online editor Kathryn Jean Lopez, who posted an article accusing one of the Edwards bloggers of “anti-Catholic rants.” Catholic League president Bill Donohue responded with a press release in which he called for the bloggers to be fired, declaring, “John Edwards is a decent man who has had his campaign tarnished by two anti-Catholic vulgar trash-talking bigots. He has no choice but to fire them immediately.”
Donohue's attacks on the bloggers were promptly and dutifully typed up and distributed to a larger audience by the Associated Press and The New York Times.
Within hours of his release, the AP ran an article by reporter Nedra Pickler that quoted Donohue, quoted the blog posts he highlighted, and explained: “The Catholic League counts its membership at nearly 350,000.” That was the only explanation Pickler gave of who Donohue is.
The next morning, The New York Times joined in with an article by John Broder. Broder also quoted Donohue and the blog posts he complained about. Like Pickler, Broder did little to help his readers understand who Donohue is, describing the Catholic League simply as “a conservative religious group.”
CNN and MSNBC got in on the act, interviewing Donohue. Like the AP and New York Times, neither CNN nor MSNBC bothered to tell viewers anything about Bill Donohue.
And Bill Donohue's own history is directly relevant to this story. Put simply, Bill Donohue is a bigot and a hypocrite.
Donohue has said:
- “People don't trust the Muslims when it comes to liberty.” [MSNBC's Scarborough Country, 2/9/06]
- “The gay community has yet to apologize to straight people for all the damage that they have done.” [MSNBC's Scarborough Country, 4/11/05]
- Addressing former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) in a press release, Donohue asked: "[W]hy didn't you just smack the clergyman in the face? After all, most 15-year-old teenage boys wouldn't allow themselves to be molested. So why did you?" [10/4/06]
- “We've already won. Who really cares what Hollywood thinks? All these hacks come out there. Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It's not a secret, OK? And I'm not afraid to say it. ... Hollywood likes anal sex. They like to see the public square without nativity scenes. I like families. I like children. They like abortions. I believe in traditional values and restraint. They believe in libertinism. We have nothing in common. But you know what? The culture war has been ongoing for a long time. Their side has lost.” [MSNBC's Scarborough Country, 12/8/04]
- “Well, look, there are people in Hollywood, not all of them, but there are some people who are nothing more than harlots. They will do anything for the buck. They wouldn't care. If you asked them to sodomize their own mother in a movie, they would do so, and they would do it with a smile on their face.” [MSNBC's Scarborough Country, 2/9/06]
Even in his criticism of the Edwards bloggers, Donohue couldn't resist some questionable comments, calling the two adult women “little brats” and “these two beauties.”
Donohue's history of anti-gay, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim comments is particularly interesting in light of his habitual claims that anti-Catholic comments are tolerated when similar comments about other groups of people would not be. Just this week, Donohue has said:
- DONOHUE: “On four occasions between September and the end of December, [Rosie O'Donnell] has lashed out at the Catholic Church. Ditto for Joy Behar. Their relentless and profoundly ignorant attacks on the Catholic Church and its teachings would never be tolerated by the show's co-owner, Barbara Walters, if it were Judaism or Islam that was under attack. But when it comes to Catholicism, she gives these two 'raised' Catholics all the time they want to vent their adolescent anger.”
- DONOHUE: “When Mel Gibson got drunk and made anti-Semitic remarks, he paid a price for doing so. When Michael Richards got angry and made racist remarks, he paid a price for doing so. When Isaiah Washington got ticked off and made anti-gay remarks, he paid a price for doing so. ... Edwards said today that 'We're beginning a great debate about the future of our country, and we can't let it be hijacked.' I have news for him -- the Catholic League -- not Edwards -- will decide what the debate will be about, and it won't be about the nation. It will be about the glaring double standard that colors the entire conversation about bigotry.”
- DONOHUE: “The purpose of this communication is to ignite a national discussion on the incredible double standard that exists regarding bigotry in American life.”
- DONOHUE: “Just today, Rosie O'Donnell and Joy Behar went on, lashing out against the Catholic Church today, on a subject which had nothing to do with Catholicism. They're talking about Ted Haggard. And Barbara Walters sat there, once again. Had they attacked Islam or Judaism, she would have raised almighty hell.”
And that's just this week.
Donohue's history of “mindless bullying” and “bigoted” comments led Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, to send a letter to The New York Times in which she described as “troubling” the Times' decision to print “the press releases of a group this marginal and this bigoted ... without any contextualization.” Kissling wrote:
It would be unfortunate if John Edwards were to cave in to the mindless bullying of groups like the Catholic League or even think that groups like it have any influence with mainstream Catholic voters. ... Despite the Catholic League's attempts to paint all critics of the Catholic church as anti-Catholic, the reality is that comments by its own leaders do far more to brand Catholics as bigots than any critic of the church could ever do. Anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements by William Donohue, the League's president, abound.
The Times has not yet published Kissling's letter as of this writing; it is available at Alternet.org.
Mark Silk, director of the Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College said, “He's a thug. He reverts to bullying because he thinks that's what the job entails.”
Rev. Mark Massa, a Jesuit priest and co-director of the Curran Center for American Catholic Studies at Fordham University, accused Donohue of being unable to differentiate between healthy debate and real religious bigotry. “Not everyone who criticizes the church is anti-Catholic,” he said.
The editors at the Catholic weekly magazine America seem to agree. In 2000, they chastised Donohue for denouncing movies he hadn't even watched. “While being first may increase one's chances of attracting media attention, there is a danger that the Catholic League reinforces the stereotype that the Catholic Church is at best unreflective and at worst unfairly biased and paranoid,” wrote Rev. James Martin. “In the long run, this may do more harm to the church's reputation than a short-lived movie or play.”
But The New York Times, AP, CNN, and MSNBC all ignored Donohue's own history of bigotry and ignored the statements of religious leaders who have denounced him as a bullying thug and “at best unreflective and at worst unfairly biased and paranoid.” Recalling ABC's decision to quote Rush Limbaugh's attacks on liberal “prejudice” without giving viewers any information about his own prejudice, the nation's leading news organizations simply repeated Donohue's attack on the Edwards bloggers. Readers and viewers were deprived of the information they need to assess his credibility.
But the whitewash of Donohue's history wasn't limited to his bigotry. The AP, New York Times, CNN, and MSNBC also ignored his history of rather selective outrage.
In 2004, a Catholic presidential candidate was viciously smeared by a man who had a history of insulting Catholics. Naturally, Donohue rushed to the candidate's defense and blasted the bigotry of the attacker, right?
No. Bill Donohue remained silent. He didn't say a word about Jerome Corsi's attacks on John Kerry, nor did he criticize Corsi's anti-Catholic comments, which Media Matters first exposed in August 2004.
Nearly two years later, in February 2006, Donohue finally got around to mentioning Corsi. But he didn't criticize Corsi; instead, he defended Corsi (whom he referred to as “Jerry” ). Corsi had “long apologized” for his “quips,” Donohue said.
Why would the Catholic League remain silent about Corsi's anti-Catholic comments? The league claims, “When slanderous assaults are made against the Catholic Church, the Catholic League hits the newspapers, television, and radio talk shows defending the right of the Church to promote its teachings with as much verve as any other institution in society.”
Yet Donohue and the Catholic League were silent when Jerome Corsi -- a man with a history of anti-Catholic comments -- smeared a Catholic presidential candidate.
Why was Donohue quiet about Corsi's comments in 2004? And why did Donohue rush to the defense of George W. Bush's Catholic outreach coordinator after news broke that he had engaged in a drunken sexual encounter with an 18-year-old student while he was a professor? That same year, Donohue took a different approach to Kerry campaign religious outreach workers: He tried to get them fired.
Donohue's inconsistency suggests his purported outrage about the Edwards bloggers may be less than sincere -- and certainly should have been part of any news report about his attacks on the bloggers.
But as the week went on, Donohue's inconsistency only got worse.
On Feburary 8, the Edwards campaign released statements from the two bloggers and from Edwards himself. Edwards described some of the posts the bloggers wrote before joining the campaign as containing “intolerant language [that] will not be permitted from anyone on my campaign, whether it's intended as satire, humor, or anything else.” Edwards went on to say that the bloggers “assured me that it was never their intention to malign anyone's faith.” Amanda Marcotte, of the blog Pandagon, said, “My intention is never to offend anyone for his or her personal beliefs, and I am sorry if anyone was personally offended by writings meant only as criticisms of public politics.” Melissa McEwan, of Shakespeare's Sister, added, “It has never been my intention to disparage people's individual faith, and I'm sorry if my words were taken in that way.”
Now, given that Donohue defended Corsi, insisting that Corsi's comments were simply “quips” and that Corsi had “apologized,” you might think Donohue would accept the bloggers' assurance that no offense was intended and move on.
You might be even more sure that he would accept their explanation and move on if you remembered his response to Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic outburst, in which Donohue noted, “There's a lot of people who have made comments which are bigoted who are not necessarily bigots” ; said he was “concerned now about piling on” ; and said of those who continued to criticize Gibson: “Who gives a damn about those people? ... What kind of blood do they want out of this man?”
Ah, but that's what Bill Donohue says about anti-Semitic outbursts by conservative actors, and anti-Catholic comments by right-wing hatchet men. For people like them, forgiveness comes easily. But not for bloggers employed by a Democratic campaign.
Donohue responded to the statements with typical venom. Donohue immediately issued another press release, this one making strange reference to the “Soros/Hollywood gang” (remember, according to Donohue, Hollywood “likes anal sex” and “is controlled by secular Jews” ) and promising “a nationwide public relations blitz that will be conducted on the pages of the New York Times.” Donohue promised that the Catholic League will control the public debate “and it won't be about the nation. It will be about the glaring double standard that colors the entire conversation about bigotry.”
A debate about “the glaring double standard that colors the entire conversation about bigotry” is surely one Donohue would lose -- if, that is, the national media ever bothered to explain who he is and what he has said in the past. Donohue's threats amusingly contained a promise that "[w]e will also reach out to our allies in the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist communities."
Presumably, Donohue will keep quiet about that whole “People don't trust the Muslims when it comes to liberty” business when he's making calls to Muslim leaders. And it's probably best if someone else makes the Jewish outreach calls, too.
Donohue's refusal to accept the bloggers' explanation and apology is not only inconsistent with his approach to Gibson and Corsi, it also makes him, by the Catholic League's own logic, a bad Catholic. As Media Matters Senior Fellow Duncan Black noted on his personal blog, the Catholic League's website explains the importance of forgiveness:
The Catholic League has never failed to accept the apology of anyone who has offended us. And this includes recidivists, the repeat offenders. When asked by reporters why we do so, I simply say “we have no other choice.” In other words, because Catholicism puts a premium on forgiveness, we must accept any apology that appears to be sincere. It's too bad the rest of the nation isn't more Catholic.
“It's too bad the rest of the nation isn't more Catholic” ? It's too bad the Catholic League isn't more Catholic.
Naturally, Donohue's second outburst won him another New York Times article, in which Broder once again declined to tell his readers who Donohue is. Broder interviewed and quoted Donohue, but gave readers no hint that Donohue has a shameful history of bigoted comments, no inkling that he has inconsistently expressed his outrage, not so much as a suggestion that he has actually defended Mel Gibson and Jerome Corsi from criticism of their own controversial comments.
Keep in mind: Broder's second Times article appeared after he and the paper had already taken criticism -- from Media Matters and countless blogs, among others -- for printing Donohue's charges of bigotry without providing necessary context about his own history.
The lack of context in the first article could, we suppose, be the result of shocking incompetence -- not knowing about, and not bothering to check on, Donohue's background. But the second? What can possibly explain the decision by Broder and his New York Times editors to omit any information about Donohue from the second article?
Whatever the reason, it is simply shameful. Whatever the reason, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that -- intentional or otherwise -- The New York Times is rigging the public debate. It is rigging a presidential campaign. It is rigging the public discussion of prejudice, of Catholicism, of religion itself.
It prints allegations of bigotry by Bill Donohue, a man with his own extensive history of bigotry -- but does not mention that history. It omits any mention of his inconsistency, of hypocrisy. When a Catholic leader writes to the Times to complain that Donohue is not representative of Catholics and should not be quoted “without any contextualization,” the Times declines to print the letter -- then runs another article quoting Donohue but again omitting any discussion of his background.
This is, simply, rigged.
And it's going to remain rigged until every progressive who is sick of this garbage vocally and publicly takes the Times and other news outlets that behave this way to task. Not just Media Matters, not just bloggers. Everyone. This isn't the first time Donohue has attacked a progressive; he's built an entire career around it. And it won't be the last. It's Edwards now; it will be someone else soon enough.
And it's going to remain rigged until every Catholic -- every person of faith -- who doesn't share the bigotry and hatred that drive so-called religious leaders like Bill Donohue and Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell insist that the national media stop pretending that these hate merchants represent them.
The speed with which major news organizations pounced on the Edwards blogger story was just the latest reminder that the media treat progressive bloggers and conservative bloggers far differently. As Media Matters detailed, bloggers and others recently hired by John McCain's presidential campaign have not gotten the scrutiny given to the Edwards bloggers.
The Politico's Mike Allen called the tempest “the revenge of the right-wing bloggers,” claiming “Don't we normally hear about the left-wing bloggers and them going after people? Here, it was Christian bloggers, or conservative bloggers, who pulled out past postings by a couple of bloggers that were hired by the Edwards campaign.”
That sentiment -- that “the left-wing bloggers” are the ones who “go after people” -- is common among political journalists. Last July, we detailed media criticism of “left-wing screeching” by “frothing bloggers” whose writing contained “vitriol” that was “uninformed, malicious and disproportionate.” As we noted at the time:
Meanwhile, vitriol, hate, and even threats of physical violence by conservative bloggers draw comparatively little attention. For example:
Misha of The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler on the Supreme Court: “Five ropes, five robes, five trees. Some assembly required.” [7/11/06]
BC of The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler on John Kerry: “Rope. Tree. Justice. The only three things that Qerry [sic] deserves for his 'service'.” [10/28/04]
Megan McCardle (who uses the pseudonym Jane Galt) on anti-war demonstrators in New York City: “I think some in New York are going to laugh even harder when they try to unleash some civil disobedience, Lenin style, and some New Yorker who understands the horrors of war all too well picks up a two-by-four and teaches them how very effective violence can be when it's applied in a firm, pre-emptive manner.” [2/13/03]
Denny K of The Flying Monkey-Right Blog in reaction to the Rumsfeld-Cheney photos: “Let's start with the following New York Times reporters and editors: Arthur 'Pinch' Sulzberger Jr., Bill Keller, Eric Lichtblau, and James Risen. Do you have an idea where they live? Go hunt them down and do America a favor. Get their photo, street address, where their kids go to school, anything you can dig up, and send it to the link above. This is your chance to be famous -- grab for the golden ring.” [7/02/06]
(Progressive blogger Glenn Greenwald, the author of How Would A Patriot Act?: Defending American Values from a President Run Amok (Working Assets Publishing, May 2006), has cataloged more examples here, here, here, and here.)
This week's firestorm over the Edwards bloggers is just a continuation of that trend: Right-wing bloggers like Michelle Malkin spew nonstop hate and venom, and the media turn a blind eye. Then, when those same conservative bloggers begin complaining about progressives, the media pay attention.
Of course, the media double standard isn't limited to conservative bloggers. Indeed, the real hypocrisy is evident when looking at news organizations themselves.
On February 6, ABCNews.com featured a post by reporter Terry Moran titled “Does John Edwards Condone Hate Speech?” We have yet to see an ABC reporter question whether ABC condones hate speech. ABC, after all, is the network that features on its news broadcasts Rush Limbaugh -- the nation's pre-eminent practitioner of hate speech -- complaining about liberal prejudice.
ABC is also the network that recently signed up Glenn Beck as a “regular commentator” despite his history of inflammatory comments regarding Muslims, Arabs, Mexicans, and other minorities. Beck famously told a Muslim congressman that he felt like asking him to “prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.” And he once fantasized aloud on his radio show about killing Michael Moore.
Then ABC hired him.
And ABC Radio is the owner of KSFO, where hosts ask callers to prove they are not Muslim by calling Allah a “whore” and refer to Barack Obama as a “Halfrican.”
So, does John Edwards condone hate speech? Maybe ABC should first ask that question of themselves.
Moving on ... how about Time magazine? Time ran an article this week that addressed the “pitfalls of putting bloggers to use” by describing the Edwards bloggers' previous work as “provocative and profanity-laced.”
The Washington editor of Time.com rose to fame largely as a result of provocative and profanity-laced posts about anal sex on Wonkette.com.
Then Time hired her.
And Fox ... we'll just skip Fox. No use trying to find anything offensive there.
What about CNN? Like ABC, they hired Glenn Beck. NBC? They can't get enough of Ann Coulter; she was on the Today show yet again this week. And they employ Chris Matthews, who makes near-daily comments about Hillary Clinton that would probably be considered sexist if not for the Clinton rules of journalism (you can say any damn thing you want, as long as you say it about the Clintons.) And, of course, Tucker Carlson, who equates homosexuality with adultery, refers to “grouchy feminists with mustaches,” and frequently peppers his commentary with caddish comments.
Do bloggers -- liberal and conservative -- sometimes make intemperate remarks? Of course. Who doesn't? But before the major media get too sanctimonious about foul-mouthed liberal bloggers, they might want to take a look at right-wing bloggers who actually encourage acts of violence -- and at their own hiring practices.
In between uncritically reporting Bill Donohue's every utterance and keeping us up to date on the latest in the Anna Nicole Smith soap opera (ABC has sent at least eight breaking news emails on that topic since yesterday; longtime readers of this column many remember that ABC didn't send a single such email when Rosa Parks died), the media found time to participate in the GOP's most recent smear of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Even White House press secretary Tony Snow and Republican Congressmen Jeff Flake and Ray LaHood acknowledged that the attacks by congressional Republicans and the RNC on Pelosi over what plane she flies on are bogus.
But that hasn't stopped the media from going along with the attacks, repeating phony spin and fake facts and generally refusing to distinguish truth from fiction.
Media Matters Senior Fellow Eric Boehlert will address the media's handling of the Pelosi plane nonsense in his column next Tuesday (stay tuned!). For now, those interested in the truth can browse Media Matters' extensive work on this topic here. Think Progress and Greg Sargent also have useful refutations of this foolishness.
Jamison Foser is Executive Vice President at Media Matters for America.