Using bad words v. treason accusations and public calls for hanging: The distinction that eludes journalists
This week, I wrote a post documenting the increasingly pervasive use and endorsement of treason accusations and violence-inciting rhetoric in the right-wing blogosphere, including among its most well-read bloggers, such as Michelle Malkin, Little Green Footballs, Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds, and Powerline's John Hinderaker. Media Matters also posted a long list of examples of the extremist rhetoric which has become commonplace among right-wing bloggers. And even prominent conservative bloggers, such as Time Magazine's Andrew Sullivan, noted this week "how the far-right blogosphere has jumped the rhetorical shark this past year, aided and abetted by more mainstream conservative bloggers."
As I documented in my post, while the national media has written endlessly about even the pettiest details of the liberal blogosphere, it has studiously ignored the increasingly deranged and violence-drenched rhetoric which has become the a staple of the right-wing blogosphere. Media Matters similarly documented that the "vitriol, hate, and even threats of physical violence by conservative bloggers draw comparatively little attention." And Sullivan agreed that the extremist rhetoric in the right-wing blogosphere is "overdue for media attention."
In response to all of this, blogger Terry Welch noted on Sunday that the Washington Post's media reporter, Howard Kurtz, was scheduled to have an online chat the following day, and urged readers to attend the chat and ask Kurtz questions about this matter:
Why is the opposition of a candidate considered an "Inquisition" from the left, but death threats from the right get ignored? Why is it worth covering an in-house Kos spat, but not the calls to violence by frequent guests on national news programs like Michelle Malkin and David Horowitz?
Kurtz is a particularly appropriate target for these questions because numerous different parts of his Washington Post have devoted substantial attention to the liberal blogosphere, the vast bulk of it negative and almost all of it bizarrely focused, like a Victorian-era grandparent, on the use of "vulgarity" -- i.e., bad words -- in blog posts and e-mails.
WashingtonPost.com Executive Editor Jim Brady, for instance, devoted an entire column to the melodramatic claim that he was " mugged by the [liberal] blogosphere," and then as "evidence," he cited e-mails he received stating that he's a "twit without a functioning brain" and a "dangerous ideologue." Post columnist Richard Cohen also devoted a full column to complaining about the "Digital Lynch Mob" which attacked him -- in the form of 3,506 e-mails (most of which he said he deleted without opening) expressing disagreement with his column on Stephen Colbert and which spat "verbal sewage" such as: "You wouldn't know funny if it slapped you in the face" and "Colbert ROCKS, you MURDER."
And to really drive home this extremely newsworthy "liberal-bloggers-are-profane" theme, the Post published an article on its front page -- its front page -- entitled "The Left, Online and Outraged," featuring Maryscott O'Connor, a left-wing blogger who, we are told in the very first sentence, lives an "angry life" fueled by "rage." The article was written by David Finkel, who "had never been to a blog before" writing the article but who was nonetheless able to decide in advance that the blogosphere reflected "the Angry Left." And true to script, Finkel's article proceeded at length to depict O'Connor as a member of the "Angry Left" blogosphere, where "crass" and "inflammatory rhetoric" and "fury" reign, and all sorts of shocking expletives are used. Greg Sargent, writing in The American Prospect, documented back in May that this theme of the crass, profane liberal blogosphere is prevalent in the national media generally, an obsession which has intensified greatly in the past couple of months and now even includes mainstream news coverage of such petty matters as flame wars among Kos sub-diarists.
Many journalists seem to be under the impression that using bad words in a post or an e-mail is not just equal to -- but worse than -- daily calls to hundreds of thousands of readers in the right-wing blogsophere for journalists and mainstream political figures to be treated as traitors and arrested and/or hanged. For that reason, I concluded my post, somewhat satirically, by noting:
Another day, another treason accusation, new traitors found in the American media and the Democratic Party, more calls for them to be killed or declarations that they deserve death. These are the sentiments fueling the pro-Bush right wing -- day after day after day. I realize that the use of bad words in e-mails sent by readers of left-wing blogs reflect such horrible meanness and hatred and should be covered by hundreds of newspaper articles. But doesn't this dynamic also merit some discussion?
But it seems that journalistic choices are beyond satire these days. Several people followed Welch's suggestion and attended Howard Kurtz's chat this week in order to ask him why journalists cover every petty detail of the liberal blogosphere while ignoring the extremism and increasingly violent rhetoric in the right-wing blogosphere, much of it directed at journalists. Several times, Kurtz attempted to dismiss the point by invoking the favorite journalistic tactic of the False Equivalency masquerading as objectivity, dismissively noting that it "seems to me there is considerable anger on both sides." But when pressed a third time about the lack of media discussion over the rhetoric and tactics of the right-wing blogosphere, Kurtz had this exchange:
Philly, Pa: Howard, come on..."Seems to me there is considerable anger on both sides."
Are you serious? What lefty blogs or pundits have called for the hunting of reporters? What lefty blogs or pundits have called for the gassing of those they disagree with (Melanie Sloan), or the firing squad (Coulter)? There is definitely a difference!
Howard Kurtz: If you got the email I get, you'd know that passions run high on both sides. I don't know of any liberals who have suggested that journalists be executed, but many are plenty angry at media coverage of Bush, Iraq, you name it.
So, the reader asked Kurtz about right-wing blogs calling for "the hunting of reporters" and calls for the gassing and/or hanging of political opponents and journalists, and all Kurtz can say is that "passions run high on both sides" -- as evidenced by the critical e-mail he gets from liberals. Why can't journalists understand this very clear point? We're not talking about garden-variety vulgarity or mean and coarse language. Notwithstanding the media's obsession with the "Angry Left" in the blogosphere, that sort of vulgarity and rage is extremely common on the Right, as conclusively demonstrated by these posts just from this week alone -- all in response to my posts and virtually all of which were promoted by Instapundit.
But far beyond -- and far more important than -- the angry profanity that is commonplace among right-wing blogs is a much more disturbing, and much more disturbed, dynamic which composes the backbone of much of the dialogue in the right-wing blogosphere. Accusations of treason, demands that political opponents be arrested, and calls for hanging and other violence are commonplace. David Horowitz, for instance, recently promoted a "call to action" by Front Page contributor Rocco DiPippo as follows:
I issue a call to the blogosphere to begin finding and publicly listing the addresses of all New York Times reporters and editors. Posting pictures of their residences, along with details of any security measures in place to protect the properties and their owners (such as location of security cameras and on-site security details) should also be published.
Several times a week, Reynolds promotes a right-wing blogger who currently has published on his blog satellite photographs of the home of the NYT Publisher, along with his address, all while Reynolds routinely claims that the American media is "empowering the terrorists." Michelle Malkin publishes hate-mongering propaganda photographs against "liberals" and the NYT that would shock George Orwell. Ben Shapiro calls for the imprisonment of Al Gore, Howard Dean, and John Kerry for sedition; Blogs for Bush urges that Joe Wilson and "others at the DNC and Kerry campaign . . . need to see the inside of a jail cell" for their attempt to "slander the President in to defeat in November of 2004; and Michael Reagan (guest host for Sean Hannity) says that Howard Dean "should be arrested and hung for treason or put in a hole until the end of the Iraq war!" And on and on and on.
Isn't it self-evident that this rhetoric and these tactics are qualitatively different from the horrendous and Republic-threatening practice of writing e-mails in response to a newspaper columns that include bad words? Aren't these tactics blatantly more newsworthy than the "scandal" that some liberal bloggers belong to an e-mail group where they exchange ideas? And even if one wants to posit some sort of equivalency between bad words and treason accusations accompanied by calls for hanging, hasn't the media, at the very least, been profoundly and inexcusably remiss in neglecting to write about the latter while writing endlessly about the former?
Every day in the right-wing blogosphere -- literally -- new American traitors are uncovered, calls for their punishment issued, swarming two-minute hate sessions commenced, and even their telephone numbers, home addresses and photos of their homes sometimes published. And yet the media, self-indulgently obsessed with the naughty words used by liberals in e-mail sent to them, have ignored this behavior almost completely. Why is that? Isn't it long past time for articles and television segments examining what is going on in the right-wing blogosphere?