Published on Sunday, October 19, 2003 by the Toronto Star
Kid Gloves for Neo-Con Cranks
by David Olive
Ideas do have consequences: Rhetoric is politics and words are action.
Earlier this month, American televangelist Pat Robertson suggested the U.S. State Department, known in Washington as "Foggy Bottom," should be destroyed.
Praising the work of a guest on his 700 Club show who published a book bemoaning the dearth of hard-liners at State, Robertson said: "I read your book. When you get through, you say, `If I could just get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom, I think that's the answer.' I mean, you get through this, and you say, `We've got to blow that thing up.'"
Death to our enemies is a motif for this Tony Soprano of the Bible Belt who once invited God to visit destructive hurricanes on Orlando, Fla., for its blasphemous Gay Days Festival.
Last July, Robertson counseled the Almighty to strike down three moderates on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The proximate cause of Robertson's impulse to visit Old Testament fury on the denizens of Foggy Bottom is the sanctions imposed by State and the United Nations against recently exiled Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, a murderous thug who happens to be Robertson's business partner in a Liberian gold-mining venture.
Robertson first adopted State Department carnage as an exit strategy for his troubled Liberian investment back in June.
"How do we get rid of them?" he said of State officials meddling with his business interests. "Maybe we need a very small nuke thrown off on Foggy Bottom to shake things up."
Robertson is a flake, of course. A flake who once made a credible run for the U.S. presidency, mind you, and whose Christian Broadcasting Network, the dominant U.S. religious broadcaster, reaches 200 million people in 90 countries and 71 languages.
Milder invective from others has routinely triggered Federal Communications Commission inquiries, which in this case might recall the widespread anti-government rhetoric that inspired Timothy McVeigh to slaughter federal employees in Oklahoma City.
Robertson has not been censured, however. On behalf of the thousands of diplomats and support staff employed by State, chief spokesman Richard Boucher, summoning as much outrage as he could manage, said simply: "I lack sufficient capabilities to express my disdain." (Italics added).
The liberal objectors to U.S. war policy in Iraq this year — including Bill Maher, the Dixie Chicks, Tim Robbins and filmmaker Michael Moore — can only wish for such gentle chastisement. Boycotts and worse have been directed at these and other anti-war spokespeople, with the encouragement of U.S. Attorney-General John Ashcroft and then-White House chief spokesman Ari Fleischer with their insistence that, in a post-Sept. 11 world, everyone should be careful about what they say and how they say it.
Fleischer later semi-recanted, saying he wasn't calling for the abridgement of First Amendment rights. But the mainstream media are acutely uncomfortable with left-wing polemics, even as they repeatedly excuse the most barbaric excesses of right-wing cranks.
Noting the current crop of books by Al Franken, Molly Ivins, James Carville, David Corn and other liberals who canvass the mendacity of the Bush administration and its apologists, Slate media columnist Jack Shafer cautioned against their obsession with lying in high places.
"In excavating conservative bullshit," Shafer said, "these writers begin to resemble their colleagues on the right. Their primary mission isn't to uncover lies and reveal the truth. If it were, they'd chart the deceptions and propaganda emanating from both political wings. Their only goal is to win one for their side."
Putting aside that scales of manure are heavily tipped to one side, it's curious that the most blood-curdling rantings on the right seldom elicit such stern rebukes. Gentle tut-tutting is the standard mainstream reaction to, say, Redneck Nation author Michael Graham's observation last May on Chris Matthews' Hardball program that "anyone listening to Hillary Rodham (Clinton) in her speech last week about patriotism — that screaming, screeching fingernail — I wanted to bludgeon her with a tire iron."
Earlier this month, Maryland's Republican first lady, Kendel Ehrlich, chose the odd forum of a conference on domestic violence to disparage Britney Spears' makeover from a former member of the Mickey Mouse Club to a Rolling Stone sex-kitten cover subject.
"Really," Ehrlich said, "if I had a chance to shoot Spears, I think I would."
Erhlich's home state Baltimore Sun promptly exonerated her for "an occasional satisfying — and meaningless — remark."
I've lost track of all the people conservative pundit Ann Coulter wants to see dead. The short list runs to leaders of certain Muslim states, Al Qaeda captive John Walker Lindh, Al Gore and feckless Bush Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.
Coulter also says her "only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building."
Last summer, she and her best-selling Treason were showcased in the Style section of a nonplussed New York Times.
The hypocrisy bar is set very high for conservative agitators.
Neo-con character assassin Andrew Sullivan was discovered two years ago placing an ad anonymously on a Web site soliciting partners for "unprotected" (no-condom) sex.
Sullivan, who has tested positive for HIV, had lectured against gay promiscuity as a factor in the AIDS crisis.
But the scandal, such as it was, quickly faded. In the National Post, media columnist John Fraser found merit in Sullivan's argument that he was entitled to keep his private life to himself: "a good philosophy, but not one, I fear, that the media are quite ready to embrace."
Actually, forgiveness is the default position in response to conservative media celebrities who run afoul of community standards. When moral crusader William Bennett was revealed last spring as a gambling addict who lost a reported $8 million (U.S.)-plus at casinos in the past decade, Democratic standard-bearer Mario Cuomo, no less, said: "It's hard for me to see what he did wrong. He didn't hurt anyone. He didn't lie about it; he didn't try to hide it."
In fact, Bennett acknowledged his gambling problem only after it was chronicled in Newsweek and the Washington Monthly.
Confessing his addiction to opiate-based painkillers a few weeks ago, Rush Limbaugh, the top U.S. talk-show host, told his millions of faithful "dittoheads" that "I've always tried to be honest with you and open with you about my life."
That burst of candor, too, followed hard on an exposé, in The National Enquirer.
Limbaugh, who is syndicated in more than 650 radio markets, has said that drug abusers "ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up."
Yet what's called for in dealing with mountebanks like Limbaugh is a nuanced media response, says Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post's influential media critic. Like Shafer, Kurtz warns against stooping to the levels of the wing nuts in condemning them.
"It seems to me," Kurtz said last week, "that those who revel in kicking the guy are exhibiting some of the very excesses they criticize in ideological warriors like Limbaugh."
I don't know about kicking them. But if a gentle soul like Tim Robbins is dis-invited from a celebration of Bull Durham's 15th anniversary at the Baseball Hall of Fame for politely disagreeing with Bush's war policy, it seems reasonable to at least ask if violence-inciting nutbars should be granted continued access to the publicly owned and regulated airwaves.
The ideological extremists profit handsomely from this double standard. Which mystifies even them.
Neo-cons have "created this cottage industry in which it pays to be un-objective," Matt Labash, a senior writer at Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard told an obscure journalism Web site last May.
"It pays to be subjective as much as possible. It's a great way to have your cake and eat it, too. Criticize other people for not being objective. Be as subjective as you want. It's a great little racket. I'm glad we found it, actually."
Just don't call him a racketeer.
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