Rachel Sklar Pushes Back Against Wingnut Radio Host Steve Malzberg's False Equivalencies

(h/t Heather)

As soon as I heard Sheriff Dupnik decry the extremist talk that has turned his state into a "mecca of prejudice and bigotry", I knew that the right would make this all about them. Funny that Dupnik never mentioned a party nor any specific individuals, but the right immediately went into defense mode, scrubbing sites and immediately denouncing Dupnik as "politicizing" the event.

Sigh. Allow me for a moment to put on my mommy hat. "Both sides do it" is not an excuse. Wrong is wrong, no matter who else is doing it. I don't let my eight year old get away with that and I don't think we should allow grown adults get away with that as an excuse for not moderating their behavior. Keith Olbermann in his Saturday Special Comment apologized for and promised to avoid using violent rhetoric in the future. He took personal responsibility. Not surprisingly, no one on the right has matched that adult attitude.

Especially not Howie Kurtz and conservative radio host Steve Malzberg. Malzberg is only too eager to point to some campaign stop made by then candidate Obama in which he said he was ready to "bring a gun to a knife fight." While I don't think it's on par with Giffords' 2008 Republican rival inviting supporters to shoot an M16 at an event to remove Giffords because it's an inversion of an established metaphor used often and also a reference to the movie The Untouchables, but if it gets it off the table, let me be the first liberal to go ahead and condemn Obama's terrible choice of words and say that it doesn't help reduce the mentality that it's okay to act violently upon someone with whom you disagree.

Got it? It was bad. Now clean up your house.

Bless Rachel Sklar for trying to inject some sanity into the discussion and trying to get Malzberg to understand that even if Michelle Obama said to shake voters (a admittedly cursory Google search turned up nothing on this, so I'm not sure of the context or accuracy), it's incumbent upon all of the media to ratchet down the violent rhetoric.

Kurtz, though quick to absolve Sarah Palin of any and all responsibility for her contributions to this eliminationist noise, tries to get Malzberg to understand what Sklar is preaching, but he's just not having any of it and justifies his craziness with more irresponsible fear-mongering:

KURTZ: Steve Malzberg, would you agree with this proposition that it would be nice if people on both sides of the political divide and both sides -- partisan sides in the media, those of us who have platforms and sit in front of cameras and sit in front of microphones, as you do, toned it down just a little bit?


KURTZ: You're not in favor of toning it down?

MALZBERG: No, because the agenda hasn't changed. Barack Obama's still going to try to rule everything he wants to rule. He's going to rule by dictate. He's going to circumvent the Congress.

Of course, Kurtz squirms a little at this (on his twitter stream after the show, he admits that he was uncomfortable by some data points) but does nothing to point out this is EXACTLY the kind of stuff that feeds into this mindset that makes it okay to hurt someone because you don't agree with him/her politically.

Sadly, I don't think it's going to get better. We may have Olbermann's promise, but we're not going to get any concessions from the Party of Personal Responsibility (tm).

Transcripts below the fold

KURTZ: We are examining the media's role in what I call the blame game stemming from the tragedy in Tucson this weekend. And joining me now to continue this conversation, from New York, Rachel Sklar, editor-at-large for Mediaite; and Steve Malzberg, host of "The Steve Malzberg Show" on WOR News Talk Radio.

And Steve, there has been a lot of talk this morning, also on the blogosphere -- I've seen some of it on TV -- about whether your side, the conservatives, Sarah Palin in particular, might be creating a climate where this kind of violence can take place.

Does that kind of talk offend you?

STEVE MALZBERG, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, it's ridiculous. And let me just say that the second this tragic news broke, I got my CNN alert on my BlackBerry. I said to my 11-year-old son Robert, who is very political savvy, I said, "Wait. Five minutes, they're going to blame talk radio."

And, of course, it took a little more than five minutes, but absolutely, that's what's happened.

KURTZ: Not much more.

MALZBERG: Not much more. Now, let me just say this --

KURTZ: Who is "they"? Who is "they"?

MALZBERG: Oh, the liberal media, the liberal politicians, the blogosphere.

But let me just -- if I have a second --

KURTZ: Go ahead.

MALZBERG: You know, in 2008, June, Barack Obama said -- you want to talk about a climate? Barack Obama, running for president, said -- not somewhere on a Web site -- said, "If they bring a knife to a fight, I'll bring a gun."

Michelle Obama, as recently as November, or late October, said, "If you know somebody who is not going to vote, shake them." Shake them. Obama himself called Republicans the enemies of Latinos.

KURTZ: OK. Your point, Steve, is that aggressive language, military-type language, is not the exclusive province of conservative talk radio.

MALZBERG: Not by a long shot. And Mr. Obama and Mrs. Obama are certainly more prominent than Sarah Palin's Web site.


KURTZ: Rachel Sklar?

SKLAR: Can we just -- I think I need to respond to this.

First of all, I am so disheartened that this discussion began with the concept of "your side and the other side." Can we just stop and look at what happened and try to maybe make things better?

I don't think it's an accident that as soon as this happened, that, you know, the inclination was to think Sarah Palin had a target map out where she put a target over Gabrielle Giffords' district. Then, if Gabrielle Giffords is shot, it's not that big a leap to say, wow, that imagery was probably a bad idea. I just can't believe it's controversial to be talking about violent imagery.

KURTZ: Hold on. It was a bad idea 10 months ago. We discussed it 10 months ago. So did every television show in America.

SKLAR: Right.

KURTZ: Later, a 22-year-old nut job who's a fan of Hitler and Marx shoots a bunch of people, including a 9-year-old girl and three people in their 70s, and some people --

SKLAR: Everyone is a nut job.

KURTZ: And some people say, hey, let's go back and look at the Sarah Palin map. You don't think that's a stretch?

SKLAR: I don't think it's a stretch to bring it into a larger discussion. I do think it's a stretch to say, without any evidence, which we still don't have, that it had anything to do with what the nut job did.

But I think that everybody who commits murder, everybody who goes on a shooting spree, is a nut job. We have to begin from that assumption.

MALZBERG: All right. Let me bring something else up, Howard.

Again, I don't hold Barack Obama responsible for any of this. OK? I'm not one of those on the left who are holding Sarah Palin responsible.

But let me add this -- based on what I said about Barack Obama, we had this woman, Amy Bishop, a professor who was denied tenure at the University of Alabama. She went to the faculty lounge and shot and killed three people.

She brought a gun to the fight, which is what Obama said he would do. You see? But did anybody make that connection? No. Only Sarah Palin.

Why? Bias. Bias.

SKLAR: No. Actually, context. Context.

There is absolutely no context to bring Obama into what happened at that school. There is, however, context to bring Sarah Palin --

MALZBERG: Her family said she was obsessed. Her family said she was obsessed.

KURTZ: Steve, let her finish.



MALZBERG: I mean, we've got to at least deal on the same, like, field of informational agreement here.

KURTZ: Rachel, there is a history here. I mean, after the Oklahoma City bombing that killed, what, 168 people, President Clinton gave a speech in which he talked about voices of hatred on the airwaves. Everybody knew he was talking about Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh said the liberal media is trying to blame this on conservative talk show hosts.

So, you know, you seem to feel like you'll bring it up to a point, but then you'll certainly jump in and say that we shouldn't make a direct link here.

SKLAR: I think that there is a difference between holding someone like Sarah Palin responsible and wanting her to behave responsibly. I just think that those are two very distinct but related things.

MALZBERG: All right. Let me --

SKLAR: If we're talking about Oklahoma City, you know, then there's that -- there's the watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants imagery that you see pop up again and again. Timothy McVeigh, wore a tree that referred to that quote at a health care rally in 2009. You'll remember that guy who had the semi strapped to his leg and he was wearing a tree that referenced that -- I'm sorry, a T-shirt that referenced that quote.

KURTZ: Right. There is always somebody you can blame for violent imagery.

SKLAR: No, but there is a recurring theme here.

MALZBERG: I left out the most important part which made it relevant to Obama. The woman's family -- Amy Bishop's family -- said to the Boston paper she was obsessed with Barack Obama.

Look, Anthony Weiner, in "The New York Observer," was quoted as talking about punching. For every moment we're sitting here -- he was at a nightclub, he took the microphone -- we're missing an opportunity to punch Bill O'Reilly.

Chris Matthews said one day someone is going to shoot Rush Limbaugh in the head, and we're all going to watch it explode. What about that?

KURTZ: All right. I've got to --

SKLAR: What about that? That's great. I'm glad to hear that being condemned.

MALZBERG: Does the right say that?

SKLAR: Can we all just stop and think about violent imagery and the fact that maybe we should be dialing it back? I don't know why this is a crazy thing to be discussing in this context.

KURTZ: In my view -- I've got to get a break. In my view, it would be nice if everybody dialed it back and toned it down just a little bit, and also stopped trying to use -- jump on every military metaphor that, whether as a politician or a pundit or a journalist uses, and try to tie it to something else.


KURTZ: There are crazy people out there, but we can't all be responsible for everything they do.

Let me get a break. CNN's coverage will continue on the other side.

KURTZ: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who remains in critical condition after being shot in the head, one of 20 people shot at that tragedy in Tucson yesterday, she was concerned about this Sarah Palin Facebook map that we've been talking about this morning, and she talked about it on MSNBC back in March.

Let's take a look.


GIFFORDS: Really, we need to realize that the rhetoric and firing people up and -- you know, even things -- for example, we're on Sarah Palin's targeted list. But the thing is that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun site over our district. When people do that, they've got to realize there's sequences to that action.


KURTZ: Rachel Sklar, the concern that you've expressed about that imagery certainly echoed by the congresswoman back 10 months ago.

SKLAR: Yes. I mean, there's nothing I can say to that. She said it best. And she's, I mean, sadly, pretty credible on that point now.

Again, I really have to stress, though, that I don't even think that in that clip that she was necessarily saying that it's -- you know, in the future, if something happens to me, it will be Sarah Palin's fault. I think she was saying that, again, it was an irresponsible use of imagery and a repeated irresponsible use of imagery that, again and again, Palin has turned to. And she did it in the campaign and she really has never -- she's really never stepped up and said, you know, I'm a leader, I should lead responsibly and set a great example.

KURTZ: Steve Malzberg, would you agree with this proposition that it would be nice if people on both sides of the political divide and both sides -- partisan sides in the media, those of us who have platforms and sit in front of cameras and sit in front of microphones, as you do, toned it down just a little bit?


KURTZ: You're not in favor of toning it down?

MALZBERG: No, because the agenda hasn't changed. Barack Obama's still going to try to rule everything he wants to rule. He's going to rule by dictate. He's going to circumvent the Congress.

KURTZ: But wait. This has nothing to do with that, you shouldn't aggressively oppose anything in the Obama agenda.

MALZBERG: Well, what you mean by tone it down? What do you mean by tone it down?

KURTZ: I'm talking about the language. I'm talking about words like, you know, "Let's not retreat, let's reload." I'm talking about gun site imagery. I'm just talking about the language of politics and media discourse.

MALZBERG: I don't know. I don't say "reload." I don't say "Let's not retreat." I say, let's not retreat, maybe, let's not back down. I play every week Tom Petty on my Friday show, "I won't back down," and Johnny Cash, "I won't back down."

Is that violence?

KURTZ: No one's asking you to back down. I'm just talking about language.

MALZBERG: All right. Anybody who uses violent -- but you agreed at the premise at the beginning of the show that crosshairs, targeting a congressional district, that's not out of the norm. That's not violent rhetoric. That's been around for years.

KURTZ: Final thought, Rachel?

SKLAR: You don't think repeated use of it -- you don't think, like, a leader repeatedly using that kind of rhetoric -- for example, Sarah Palin at a rally --

MALZBERG: What about Barack Obama and Mrs. Obama? Huh?

SKLAR: Well, OK.

MALZBERG: Shake them. Get in their face.

SKLAR: OK. Oh, my God, you're right, let's blame Michelle Obama.

MALZBERG: Get in their face. Shake them. Bring a gun. How about that?

SKLAR: I'm sorry. Do you realize how crazy it is to go from Sarah Palin and "reload" and gun sites to Michelle Obama?

MALZBERG: Really? Get in their face and shake them?

KURTZ: I really don't want this descend into the same thing. I know you're not trying to do that, Rachel.

Steve, nobody's asking you to tone it down. I do think there's an important debate to be had here about language and sometimes inflammatory rhetoric.

Steve Malzberg, Rachel Sklar, thanks for joining us from New York.

MALZBERG: My pleasure.

SKLAR: Thanks, Howie.

KURTZ: A final thought in just a moment.


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