Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Uncivil Discourse

By Reginald Johnson

Jan. 19, 2011

Following the horrific shootings in Arizona of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several others, there’s been calls that both the left and the right need to tamp down harsh and “extremist” rhetoric.

President Obama and others say that we need a more civil public discourse, and “make sure that we are talking to each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

Some have said the angry rhetoric from politicians and pundits in recent years has fueled an atmosphere of hate, and may have helped push unstable individuals, such as the accused Arizona gunman Jared Loughner, over the edge to act in a violent manner. Loughner had reportedly been targeting Giffords for political reasons, though it isn’t entirely clear.

I agree that extremist and hate-filled rhetoric has an effect on people, and has to be condemned.

But I reject the false equivalency of saying that both the left and right are equally to blame for today’s poisoned political atmosphere. Not so.

In recent years it’s clear politicians and pundits on the right have been engaging in hate speech --- through their demonizing and scapegoating of liberals, gays, immigrants, intellectuals and doctors who provide abortions. In many instances, right-wingers have, either explicitly or implicitly, urged their followers to engage in acts of violence towards those they don’t like.

I haven’t seen anything from pundits or politicos on the left that compares with this pattern of irresponsible language and hate rhetoric on the right.

Let’s look at just a few examples concerning actions or comments by right-wingers. Last year, Republican Sarah Palin had her website put up a map with gunsight crosshairs over the districts with congress members she wanted removed. One of those was that of Giffords, a Democratic congresswoman from the Tucson area of Arizona.

Moreover, on a Twitter posting last year, Palin had urged her followers, “Don’t retreat, Instead, RELOAD!”

Or consider Glenn Beck, the wild commentator of the right who has a nightly show on FOX network, a show which reaches millions of people. This man is truly scary. He spends his time every night demonizing people on the left --- “progressives” --- for being a threat to the nation. They’re evil and subversive, he says, and you gotta watch ‘em. He seems to be taking a playbook from the 1950s demagogue, Senator Joe McCarthy, who made a career of labeling anyone left of center a “communist,” and destroyed hundreds of lives in the process.

Recently, Beck has taken to repeatedly accusing noted political science professor, Frances Fox Piven, of trying to bring down the American economic system through her writings about mobilizing the poor and strengthening welfare rights. He even held Piven in part responsible for the Arizona killings. Bizarre. But unfortunately, people listen to this junk or read it in his on-line column, “The Blaze.”

Beck’s rants usually stop short of openly advocating violence against opponents but his constant vilification of individuals clearly engenders anger and resentment among his followers, to the point where they threaten violence. Recently some readers writing comments in “The Blaze” said they would shoot Piven or blow up her house, according to a report on Democracy Now. The messages were not removed from the site.

In some cases, Beck himself has been explicit in calling for violence. “Drive a stake through the heart of the bloodsuckers,” was one comment reported in a book by Dana Millbank of the Washington Post.

There’s many other examples of right-wing pundits and politicos, particularly on FOX, who use the language of violence and vilification. Bill O’Reilly recently said that Millbank should be “decapitated” due to the reporter’s criticism of FOX’s election night coverage. O’Reilly said later that he was, ha ha, only joking. But then he said Millbank should be beaten up anyway. Liberal-hating Ann Coulter a few years ago said she wouldn’t care if the New York Times building got blown up. Later she said that that too, was only a joke. Hilarious.

Right-wing shock jock Michael Savage, as well as other rightist commentators, have called for violence to deal with illegal immigrants. According to the media watch dog group FAIR, in 2008, Savage called for troops to be brought back from Iraq to protect Americans from “the scourge of illegal immigrants who are running rampant across America, killing police for sport, raping, murdering like a scythe across America.”

As noted from letters that come in to Beck, the hate rhetoric whips up anger and appears to fuel a desire to carry out violent acts.

In one confirmed case, a man who said he was influenced by
Beck, set out to kill people at two liberal organizations in

San Francisco. Byron Williams, the man who plotted to assassinate people at the ACLU and the Tides Foundation and who was arrested by police before he got there --- following a shootout --- told an interviewer with Media Matters for America that he was inspired by Glenn Beck.

Those who charge that the left has used a similar language of violence and hate that the right has, have an obligation to provide the evidence. Yes, I’m sure you can find some anarchist somewhere who said we should “destroy the system.” But you’re not going to find much of anything among left pundits or politicians --- who have media stature --- who’ve engaged in a pattern of hate talk or used the language of violence.

FOX, owned by Rupert Murdoch, is heavily responsible for allowing the hate talk to go on. I’m with those who think it’s time to contemplate boycott actions against FOX and have regular protests.

The group Jewish Funds for Justice recently picketed FOX headquarters in New York and submitted a petition with 10,000 signatures of people demanding the cancellation of Beck’s show. They accused Beck of “unchecked hate mongering and public incitement.”

That’s a good start.

Chip Berlet, senior analyst with Political Research Associates, which tracks right-wing movements, told Scott Harris of the Between the Lines radio show that it was time for a campaign to get advertisers to drop their sponsorship of the Glenn Beck program. He said such a campaign had been successful in getting Lou Dobbs removed from CNN, in light of Dobb’s perpetual bashing and unfair portrayal of immigrants.

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