July 27, 2009


In Bill O'Reilly's Sights: Run afoul of the conservative commentator, and feel the wrath of his avid Army (Rick Perlstein, 7/21/09, Newsweek)

Last week I was greeted with an uncomfortable curiosity: a brace of hate mail in my inbox, received within a 20-minute span. [...]

YouTube soon revealed all. Bill O'Reilly had run a segment on an article I published in the July 20 Newsweek, along with a picture—my author photograph—and a description of me—"this Perlstein," who had written "some book no one heard of," spit out with such venom that more than one friend of mine thought of Sasha Baron Cohen's Borat singing about throwing a Jew down a well. I was, Bill O'Reilly explained, an agent of "media corruption." In a subsequent newspaper column, O'Reilly summarized the problem thus: "Under the guise of hard news reporting, the media is pushing rank propaganda on the citizenry. Dr. Joseph Goebbels the Nazi propaganda minister, successfully developed this tactic in the 1930s."

Were I a conservative, and a fan of Sarah Palin, and a viewer of Bill O'Reilly—but not a particularly conscientious reader of Newsweek—I would have been mad at me, too.
What had I written, and what had Newsweek attempted to get away with? Here's how one friendly blogger summarized "Beyond the Palin": "Perlstein's entire article is ... a chronicle of the division within Republican ranks between the party's elites ... and its far more strident base." Any contempt present in the piece, he pointed out, came not in my own voice but those of the elite Republicans I quoted, who "treat part of the base with a certain amount of disdain, courting them with a wink and a nod when necessary, dissociating from them ... when they fail to deliver the electoral goods.... Indeed, Perlstein's article is not so much a liberal elitist sneer at the lumpen proletariat in fly-over country as much as it is a careful examination of conservative elites toward those they regard as such."

In truth the article was a little more than that. I also quoted author and former Bush speechwriter David Frum asking worriedly, "What's happening to Fox News?", and suggested that, in an era of occasional violence from the right-wing fringe, all responsible conservatives should all be asking that question. My friend David Neiwert, a Seattle-based journalist and author of the recent book The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right, explained to me the problem thus: "I'm hearing now, from supposedly mainstream conservative pundits"—he singled out Fox's Glenn Beck, who has been entertaining the notion that Obama might not be a natural-born American citizen—"the kind of extreme rhetorical appeals that I used to hear from militia movement leaders in the early 1990s, talk about how the evil liberal president literally intends to destroy our country."

Obviously Friend Perlstein ought not be subjected to anti-Semitic and hateful personal attacks, especially not for pointing out the truth that the Beltway Right holds the religious base in the same contempt that he does. But rather than compare the way the Glenn Becks of the world talk about Barack Obama destroying the country to the militiamen talking about GHW Bush and Bill Clinton, he ought to compare them to himself, The Eve of Destruction: George Bush is getting four more years to remake the world in his image. (Too bad for us, he already started.) (Rick Perlstein, January 11th 2005, Village Voice)

After all, it was Bush Derangement Syndrome that mainstreamed this sort of demonization and lunatic talk about the president as a crypto-totalitarian.

How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable (Jennifer Mesko, 7/22/09, CitizenLink)

s Republican Mark DeMoss and Democrat Lanny Davis ...are calling on liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans and people of all faiths to take the "pledge," which reads:

I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior.
I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them.
I will stand against incivility when I see it.

To take the pledge, enter your first and last name and country at www.civilityproject.org.

DeMoss, president of his own public-relations firm — The DeMoss Group — said the project took shape during last year's election season.

"I had spent about two years volunteering for Mitt Romney, and I saw a lot of ugly rhetoric and behavior aimed at Mormons and then at me," he said. "And then the results of the Proposition 8 vote in California contributed to my thinking — when you saw gay activists responding to the (marriage-amendment) vote by vandalizing churches and temples.

"I decided to launch a project where I would talk not about unity, not about tolerance, not about getting along, not about compromise, but just about civility."

DeMoss' unlikely partner in the project is Lanny Davis, a longtime adviser to the Clintons who has served three terms on the Democratic National Committee.

Their paths crossed last year, as Davis was immersed in Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. DeMoss was so impressed with Davis' civil tone that he wrote him a letter.

"I suspect that politically you and I may have nothing in common," he wrote. "But as I've watched you conduct yourself in the public arena, I've always appreciated how you handled yourself, how you handle your adversaries, how you show respect for those who disagree with you, and for modeling civility in an increasingly uncivil town."

Davis is used to getting mail — but not this kind.

"I'm getting all this hate mail, and I get this amazing letter from a perfect stranger who identifies himself as an evangelical Christian," Davis said. "I always try to give deference to somebody who disagrees with me. That is the point Mark made in his letter, that he noticed that about me, that I always try to be respectful of people who are of a different opinion.

"The letter was so beautifully written and moved me so greatly. It's now framed on my bookcase."

DeMoss invited Davis to join The Civility Project late last year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 27, 2009 6:57 AM
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