August 24, 2009

David Frum spoke out this weekend about the reckless direction America's right-wing talk-show hosts are taking our national discourse -- embodied by the nuts bringing guns to events featuring President Obama:

Nobody has been hurt so far. We can all hope that nobody will be. But firearms and politics never mix well. They mix especially badly with a third ingredient: the increasingly angry tone of incitement being heard from right-of-center broadcasters.

The Nazi comparisons from Rush Limbaugh; broadcaster Mark Levin asserting that President Obama is "literally at war with the American people"; former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin claiming that the president was planning "death panels" to extirpate the aged and disabled; the charges that the president is a fascist, a socialist, a Marxist, an illegitimate Kenyan fraud, that he "harbors a deep resentment of America," that he feels a "deep-seated hatred of white people," that his government is preparing concentration camps, that it is operating snitch lines, that it is planning to wipe away American liberties": All this hysterical and provocative talk invites, incites, and prepares a prefabricated justification for violence.

And indeed some conservative broadcasters are lovingly anticipating just such an outcome.

Frum notes that conservatives were quick to attack a Homeland Security bulletin warning law-enforcement officers of a looming threat from right-wing extremists -- only to have those warnings come all too true:

Newt Gingrich tweeted: "The person who drafted the outrageous homeland security memo smearing veterans and conservatives should be fired."

I don't think the former speaker could tweet such a thing today in good conscience. The person who drafted that homeland security memo has gained very good reason to be worried. The guns are coming out. The risks are real.

It's not enough for conservatives to repudiate violence, as some are belatedly beginning to do. We have to tone down the militant and accusatory rhetoric. If Barack Obama really were a fascist, really were a Nazi, really did plan death panels to kill the old and infirm, really did contemplate overthrowing the American constitutional republic—if he were those things, somebody should shoot him.

Frum was on CNN's Reliable Sources this Sunday and talked about it with Howard Kurtz:

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Um, just before I came out here, David Frum, I read a column that you wrote for The Week magazine about people who bring guns to these town meetings or Obama events. And you really took on some on the right, on your side, so to speak -- Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity -- you talked about hysterical talk about violence, you said that we have to tone it down, we have to tone down, excuse me, "the militant and accusatory rhetoric."

DAVID FRUM: Ah, we do. We do. Because --

KURTZ: Is it fair to blame the broadcasters for this atmosphere?

FRUM: Uh, yeah, it's very -- coping with a downward trend in advertising revenues for talk radio, the broadcasters have ramped up what they are saying. When you have broadcasters saying the president is, quote, literally at war with the American people, um -- literally at war is a very serious thing, Al Qaeda is literally at war with the American people.

KURTZ: And has a deep-seated hatred for white people.

FRUM: And has a deep-seated hatred -- so it's inflammatory. And the thing that is so enraging about all this, is obviously people are getting more excited about that, than they do about the details of health insurance.

Interestingly, Kurtz a little later discusses Fox's flaming hypocrisy in backing anti-Obama protesters when previously it had dismissed anti-war protesters as "loons", something they were called out for by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show:

KURTZ: [H]asn't Fox, in fact, flipped -- some Fox hosts, I should say -- from slamming liberal protesters to defending these anti-Obama protesters?

That, in fact, is part of the bigger picture: The teabaggers are being inflamed and openly encouraged to act irrationally and disruptively by Fox News and its right-wing radio cohorts, specifically because they know that no matter how crazy they act -- even bringing guns to events featuring the president -- they will be actively defended for it, instead of exposed for the thugs they are.

Transcript below the fold:

KURTZ: Speaking of Fox News, there's a bit of a smack-down on the airwaves that we're going to play for you that goes to the question of how Fox is treating the protesters.

First, Jon Stewart, on "The Daily Show," played some clips to that effect. And then Bill O'Reilly came back the next night with a rebuttal. Let's show that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: When we cover the town hall meetings, we don't describe the protesters as loons.

JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": Of course you don't describe the protesters as loons. What kind of monster would describe honest Americans voicing their political opinions that way?

O'REILLY: The surveys show many protesters are simply loons.

STEWART: All right. To be fair -- to be fair, those were protesters he agrees with.

O'REILLY: To be fair? Ha! Once again, Jon Stewart took the "loon" clip out of context. Here's what I really said...

There are the anti-Bush protesters here in New York City. While most of these people have been peaceful, more than 1,000 have been arrested, and surveys show many protesters are simply loons, calling for the destruction of the American system, calling for retreat in the face of terrorism.


KURTZ: And O'Reilly went on to say that he understands that Stewart is a satirist, but that he had been unfair in the way he had framed it.

So, Anne Kornblut, I'm sure "The Daily Show" does selective editing for comedic purposes, but isn't there a serious point here about who you describe protesters, depending on what the cause is?

ANNE KORNBLUT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I guess so. I'm glad he has a new target besides Olbermann. There's a new fight going on.

Sure. I mean, look, we have to be -- I think all of us here are careful about how we describe the protesters and giving them credence. They operate in a different universe. And certainly, I think, Jon Stewart's goal in all of this is to be funny first and probably accurate first-ish.


KURTZ: Clarence, hasn't Fox, in fact, flipped -- some Fox hosts, I should say -- from slamming liberal protesters to defending these anti-Obama protesters, some of which -- some of whom are very articulate and some of whom seem a little confused about some of the facts?


KURTZ: Yes, let's try that.

PAGE: ... to be fair that we are talking about the line being blurred between news and entertainment more than any of us could have imagined, except maybe in the world of Paddy Chayefsky's "Network" back in 1975. If you look at that now, you're seeing that kind of a circus unfold on cable TV now.

The real point underlying all this is that it's OK to slant your anchor coverage, if you will, to slant your shows on cable TV now...


KURTZ: But aren't these opinion shows? They're not anchors. They're not anchors, they're commentators.

PAGE: But, you know, again, how much of our audience out there understands the distinction? I mean, we're in this business, you know, and we make that distinction. But folk outs there -- I go to my video store and the guy says, "Oh, I get all my news from Bill O'Reilly." I like Bill, but getting all your news from any one place...

KURTZ: And MSNBC, some hosts, seem to be more inclined to go after these town hall protesters than they were to go after the anti- Bush demonstrators.

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