I try not to rant about media bias or political correctness much, because after a while it feels like you’re banging your head against the wall.
But Kathryn’s latest column – pointing out the comments of John Edwards’ new campaign blogger, Amanda Marcotte about “What if Mary had taken Plan B after the Lord filled her with his hot, white, sticky Holy Spirit?” [Sorry to lay that on you, readers, but there’s no other way to so effectively illustrate the obnoxious, vulgar, sneering and confrontational bigoted tone of her comments] – illustrates the ridiculousness of the “rules” for public debate in America today.
I like free speech. I like passionate arguments. I like it when opposing views clash with vigor and volume, when John McLaughlin bellows, “WROOOONG, Eleanor!” I like jokes, and I know that sometimes an attempt at humor is going to fall flat.
But sometimes some comment will cross a line of taste, or decency, or just common respect, and in an ideal world, the body politic would say, in a more-or-less unified fashion, “that’s wrong. That’s unfair. That’s out of line. Knock it off.”
Right now, we have a public debate in which one side is stringently patrolled for anything that could be considered rude, uncouth, or indecent, and the other side is given carte blanche.
A few years back, Rush Limbaugh makes controversial comments about Donovan McNabb, and he resigned from ESPN to spare the network additional protest. Trent Lott made his idiotic comments about Strom Thurmond, and resigned as the party’s leader in the Senate (although returning to a leadership position four years later). Voters punished George Allen for his “macaca” comment, after the Washington Post gave it wall-to-wall coverage for the duration of the campaign.
Just in the past few days, we have seen George Soros explicitly compare the Bush administration to the Nazi regime, and nothing happened – few media outlets believe his comments are even worth mentioning, much less criticizing. Edwards hires a blogger foaming at the mouth about Catholics, and nothing happens. The Hotline’s Blogometer responds, “So What?”
William Arkin’s comments about the troops being mercenaries were exceptionally tasteless, and should have prompted the Washington Post to reconsider whether he was the best national security columnist they could find.
I don’t care that Soros, Edwards’ blogger, or Arkin disagree with me; lots of people do. I do care that we are establishing a precedent where no statement warrants rebuking or public condemnation, as long as it comes from one political perspective. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. When Limbaugh brought up race in his discussion of McNabb, he was stepping clumsily into a sensitive topic and a rebuke was inevitable (though I love Rush, I think he was just flat wrong in that situation). It is good that Lott was rebuked for insinuating that America should have elected a segregationist generations ago, and while I think Allen paid an awfully steep price for losing his cool, there’s no denying that there was something ugly in his confrontational, belittling tone with the young cameraman from the Webb campaign.
But the movers and shakers of our public debate – those who set the news agenda for our major newspapers, wires, magazines, radio and television have decided that they will only object to outrageous comments to one side. And that is not good for either side of the debate.
I wrote a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer last year, lamenting the fact that death threats were becoming increasingly common in the blogosphere, and commenting that no matter how stark our political differences are, writing “I hope you die” ought to be unacceptable. The overwhelming reaction from Philly readers was… “How come you only picked examples of death threats from the left? Why are you covering up death threats from the right? You right wing [long string of profanity]!” Utterly depressing. Political discussion, in this atmosphere, is becoming impossible.
UPDATE: Maybe I spoke too soon. The New York Times writes of the Catholic League’s objections, and I’m stunned to read:
Mr. Edwards’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Palmieri, said Tuesday night that the campaign was weighing the fate of the two bloggers.
The two women brought to the Edwards campaign long cyber trails in the incendiary language of the blogosphere. Other campaigns are likely to face similar controversies as they try to court voters using the latest techniques of online communication.
Ms. Marcotte wrote in December that the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to the use of contraception forced women “to bear more tithing Catholics.” In another posting last year, she used vulgar language to describe the church doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Kudos to the Times for paying attention, and it appears, so far, that the Edwards campaign might just be taking this seriously.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Several Hillary Spot readers note that the Times report mixes up the Immaculate conception and the Virgin Birth, pointing out that Marcotte’s sneer was about the Virgin Birth. The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary being conceived without original sin, despite being conceived the regular way.
Honestly, I’m just thrilled that the Times recognized that those words could offend someone, and weren’t “normal” language or descriptions in the conversational circles of New York Times reporters… but I suppose that could be the soft bigotry of low expectations.