Blood Libel Ethics and the U.S. News Media’s Integrity Dead End

First you make a baseless, inflammatory accusation–the Big Lie. Then you attack your victim for how she responds to it.

The news media’s self-destructive obsession with discrediting Sarah Palin has reached its ethical nadir, and with it any reasonable hope that U.S. journalism, as currently practiced, will be returning to credibility and respectability within the foreseeable future.

Beginning last week, news outlets across the journalistic spectrum attempted to draw a causal relationship between Jared Loughner’s shooting spree, which killed six and wounded 20, and Sarah Palin’s Congressional “hit list”, in which she used the cross-hairs of a rifle to identify targeted Democratic districts. The objective was to take down Palin (and others—the Tea Party, conservative talk radio stars, conservatives generally) by linking her to mass murder, despite the absence of facts or logic supporting such a connection. Strained from the beginning, the efforts became progressively more desperate and shrill as the facts came out. Loughner, unfortunately for the media and Palin’s enemies on the left, was apolitical, according to friends. He didn’t frequent political websites or listen to the radio. He didn’t want religion in the schools; he didn’t admire the flag, or the Constitution. He just wanted to shoot a member of Congress. He was, and is, crazy.

The media’s proper response to being so far off-base and so viciously insistent about it would be to say to Palin and the rest, “We’re sorry.” But the so-called journalists at the center of this disgraceful episode didn’t have the courage, perspective or decency to do that. True, said the New York Times in one of the lowest of the many low moments it has had in recent years, there was no direct linkage, but… But what? There was no linkage direct or otherwise; there never was. Ah, said others, on CBS, CNN, NBC, ABC, and in the Washington Post, but “questions have been raised…” By whom? Not by the public, but by an apparently incompetent Pima County sheriff trying to deflect attention away from his own accountability, by opportunistic politicians seeking to exploit a congresswoman’s shooting, by bitter old Lefties like Jane Fonda, now reduced to Twitter, and by blatantly biased columnists, commentators and reporters in flagrant disregard for facts or fairness. “Now is the time for a national dialogue about the climate of hate,” they write—but why now? It is “now” because an attractive young Democratic congresswoman has been shot in a politically divided state, and to have the discussion “now” will suggest that conservative rhetoric was in some way responsible, though it was not.

That’s why.

Most of the American public, polls show, have recognized the media attack for the coordinated slime job that it is: they do not believe Loughner was motivated in any way by Palin’s maps, Limbaugh’s barbs, or Sharron Angle’s idiotic remark about “Second Amendment solutions.” They, at least, know a lunatic when they see one. Yet even public rejection of their wholly manufactured anti-conservative “narrative” hasn’t cooled the journalistic ardor for a conservative scapegoat. When Sarah Palin released a public statement condemning—justly, appropriately—the outrageous slander against her, the press attacked her yet again….for the words she used in her statement!  Adolf Hitler, Jared Loughner’s favorite writer, sure had his Big Lie theory right. Make them respond to your lies, and then you’ve got them!

In her comments, posted on Facebook, Palin wrote..

“If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible….”

Reprehensible is the word for it, all right, but the press was horrified at the use of the term “blood libel”—never mind that the term was already used earlier in the week to describe the onslaught against Palin by law professor Glenn Reynolds in the Wall Street Journal. Palin might well have gotten the term from his essay….except that most journalists don’t believe she can read.

Dan Farber, on the CBS News site, deceptively called the term “anti-Semitic,” though it has been used to describe the lies told about Jews centuries ago, claiming that they used the blood of murdered children in their religious rituals. The New York Times’ Michael Shear wrote, “By using the term ‘blood libel’ to describe the criticism about political rhetoric after the shootings, Ms. Palin was inventing a new definition for an emotionally laden phrase. Blood libel is typically used to describe the false accusation that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals, in particular the baking of matzos for passover. The term has been used for centuries as the pretext for anti-Semitism and violent pogroms against Jews.” Shear is obviously wrong: the term libel implies a lie: the lie has been used as the pretext for anti-Semitism for centuries, but the accurate description of it as libel has not. But what’s a little matter of the English language and history when the objective is to destroy a politician you don’t like? Palin was also not inventing the use of “blood libel,” since it had been used in exactly the same way in Prof. Reynold’s op-ed piece. Was her usage, or Reynold’s, a historically accurate application of the word? No. Was it clear what both of them meant by the term in the context in which they used it? Absolutely.

Predictably, the media found some left-leaning Jewish groups to take offense at Palin’s statement, adopting the position that she was daring to compare her victimization to the horrors endured by the Jewish people. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, one of the chief culprits in the blood libel against Palin, used condescension this time. “Perhaps she didn’t know of the context of that phrase,” the MSNBC anchor said. “Maybe she was ignorant of it, to give her the benefit of the doubt.”

After all, Sarah Palin isn’t just an accessory to a slaughter—we all know she’s stupid too—right, Andrea?

It fell to an unlikely authority, one with impeccable liberal credentials, to throw the cold water of fact on the latest attempt to mug Palin. Prof. Alan Derschowitz of Harvard Law School—scholar, criminal defense lawyer, Democrat, progressive and Jew, deftly told Andrea and the rest that they didn’t know what they were talking about, and made himself an Ethics Hero in the process. He said:

The term “blood libel” has taken on a broad metaphorical meaning in public discourse. Although its historical origins were in theologically based false accusations against the Jews and the Jewish People, its current usage is far broader. I myself have used it to describe false accusations against the State of Israel by the Goldstone Report. There is nothing improper and certainly nothing anti-Semitic in Sarah Palin using the term to characterize what she reasonably believes are false accusations that her words or images may have caused a mentally disturbed individual to kill and maim. The fact that two of the victims are Jewish is utterly irrelevant to the propriety of using this widely used term.

Predictably, most media sources are not giving wide circulation to Prof. Derschowitz’s rebuttal. Over at the National Review, blogger Jonah Goldberg was suddenly disturbed at Palin’s use of the phrase, although the earlier use by Reynolds, a colleague, somehow didn’t arouse his ire. More evidence that “blood libel” used in a non-Jewish context only alarms pundits when it comes from Sarah Palin: Newsbusters’ researchers report that on Dec. 19, 2000, Chris Matthews and guest Jack Kemp were discussing an NAACP Voter Fund campaign ad “basically blaming [George W.] Bush for the James Byrd horror story,” the racist murder that occurred during Bush’s tenure as Texas governor. Kemp described the ad as “a brutal, brutal ad hominem blood libel ad against George W. Bush,” without any objection from Matthews, who has joined the chorus of pundits “shocked” at Palin’s choice of words. NewsBusters also quotes MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle as saying, in 2006, on  MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country,” “The problem for Kerry here is that two years ago, Joe, he did not talk like that when he was undergoing a blood libel by the Swift Boat people.”

Ethics Alarms continues to wait, probably futilely, for the media apologies to commence. What can and should begin, however, is a national dialogue—not the one the news media has tried to concoct, about the imaginary consequences of vigorous political speech, but about how to reform the dying profession of U.S. journalism, exposed in this fiasco as a being dominated by partisan thugs, frauds and fools without a hint of decency and fairness among them.

And once again, I want to emphasize that I am no supporter of Sarah Palin. I consider her an intellectually lazy, though charismatic, political figure of insufficient seriousness and dubious ethics, who betrayed the state that made her a public figure by abandoning her post. As long as she is slandered, misrepresented, lied about and otherwise unfairly treated by the news media, however, I will continue to write about it. Her political ambitions that so offend the left-leaning media (among others) are eminently vulnerable to the truth, and that is what she should be confronted with with, not trumped up offenses. Everyone—even conservatives!—deserves to be treated fairly.

75 thoughts on “Blood Libel Ethics and the U.S. News Media’s Integrity Dead End

  1. When do you think Sarah first became aware of the term “blood libel”? : 1) While attending one of her colleges ? 2) She read it in one of the many newspapers that have been in front of her all these years? , or 3) Two days ago , when her corporatist handlers first put it in her head ?

    • So what? I’m pretty well-educated myself—Harvard BA, law degree, co-authored a book with a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, written some historically-based plays—read a few books here and there, keep up on things….and ya know what? I first heard the term a couple of days ago. So sue me. What does that have to do with anything? She deserves to be lied about in the press because she’s not a scholar on 12th Century Jewish persecutions? Your comment is a non sequitur.

      And what the heck is a “corporatist handler”?

      And your Hogan’s Heroes email is fake. Either use a real one, or your next pointless comment gets dinged. If you want to be gratuitously snarky, at least follow the ground rules.

  2. Sarah Palin managed to take a day set aside to memorialize victims of the Arizona shooting and turn it into a day to feel sorry for her. Of course she doesn’t know what “blood libel” means. She didn’t take the time to find out before she broadcast it to millions of listeners. As you said, she is not even the first person to use the term–she is incapable of original thought. I am so tired of this woman and wish everyone would take a pledge to ignore her, but they keep falling for her attention-getting stunts. Personally, I agree with David Frum, and I don’t even like David Frum:

    • I’m sorry: Palin should never have been brought into the discussion of the shootings at all, and to spring “gotchas” on her now for resenting being cast as an instigator to murder is shameless. Obviously nothing she does will ever be accepted by the media hoards dedicated to her destruction. What do you mean “attention-getting stunts”? The media focused the attention…had it not been for the map nonsense, you would have never heard the blame “Palin” this weekend. People comment on her every trivial move, keeping her in the headlines, and then blame her for the media’s obsession. It’s idiotic. I’m sick of her too, but this is a media and Democrat-fed phenomenon. She’s not a public official; she has no credibility. What she says shouldn’t influence anyone, least of all murderers.

  3. But Jack, doesn’t her use of the “blood libel” term violate the Second Niggardly Principle? There was no need to use that term. She could have accomplished what she needed to accomplish with her statement without using a term which is offensive to Jews. No, it is not an anti-Semitic statement, but it is offensive. Of course, there is the whole issue of her drawing further attention to herself (which, I know, she didn’t start, but she could have put an end to it by just keeping her mouth shut) at a time when attention should not be deflected from the victims of the tragedy. Regardless of how she’s been “picked on” by the media and pundits (I swear it sounded as if she mispronounced that word and said “pundints”), Sarah Palin is no victim. Keeping her mouth shut would have been the classy thing to do — an, in my opinion, the ethical thing to do.

    • She obviously didn’t think the term was offensive to Jews, and neither did I (i used the term before she did.) I’m not even sure it IS offensive to Jews, and because it is being tied to a general effort by the No-Labels gang and Orwellian thought-police to prevent dissent by limiting the vocabulary to express it, I’ll need a lot more than I’ve seen before I’ll agree to apply the Niggardly Principles to the word. If its is genuinely offensive ( as opposed to conveniently offensive), then sure, use another term. Palin, like me, didn’t think the term is offesnive, and Derschowitz doesn’t think it should be.

      The claim that she is drawing attention to herself when the likes of Chris Matthews and Paul Krugman have been dragging her name through the mud without any justification for DAYS just bewilders me. If she is quite, the attacks go on, and people say she is hiding in guilt and shame, If she responds, they say, “How dare she impose herself on this tragedy?” Sorry, she didn’t make that trap, and I refuse to allow people to put her in it. It is flat out unfair and wrong.

      • “…I’ll need a lot more than I’ve seen before I’ll agree to apply the Niggardly Principles to the word. If its is genuinely offensive ( as opposed to conveniently offensive), then sure, use another term. ”

        Ok, so how many offended Jews, who might not be quoted by any media, will it take for you to consider it “genuinely offensive”? I’m sorry, but your statement seems merely argumentative and dismissive.

        Also, Matthews/Krugman/et al. notwithstanding, you really can’t convince me that Sarah Palin has been treated unfairly. Or that she has been caught in some kind of media trap. She is not a victim. She is a politician. I’ll give you that she had to say something. She could have been a statesman, though, and merely said something along the lines of “What happened in Tucson is a terrible tragedy. We offer our sympathy to the victims and their families.” (a speech-writer could do a better job on that) This would have been strong and classy, instead of weak and whiny which is what we got from her. By not even addressing the inflammatory media remarks, she would have shown herself to have risen above it all.

        So, I’m sorry, Jack, but I just can’t agree on either point. And contrary to what you might be thinking, I am working at keeping my own politics out of this.

        • As I have said elsewhere, I want to see genuinely offensive rather than conveniently offensive. A bunch of Palin-opposing Jews coming out and saying “we’re offended” doesn’t cut it. Why was Jonah Goldberg not offended enough to speak up when the term was used in the same context by a National Review colleague, but suddenly offended by Palin? Why is stand-up Jewish liberal Derschowitz not offended? Because he’s fair, that’s why.

          I can’t convince you that it’s unfair to accuse someone of provoking a mad killer who shot a judge, a little girl, and a Congresswoman, plus 17 more, when it’s clear she did nothing of the kind—because she’s a politician? Wow. You’ll have to elucidate on that one. She has every right to say, “How dare anyone denigrate me like this and try to implicate me in an unspeakable evil? Is there no decency?” She should not have had to defend herself from pure, hateful, dishonest slander, but it was there, and a response was appropriate. I can’t comprehend any fair-minded person concluding otherwise. Would you put out generic sympathy if you were being mentioned BY NAME as having culpability in a high profile massacre? Really?

          • Why do you insist on making a distinction between “genuinely offensive” and “conveniently offensive” in this case but not in the case of the NYC Mosque? The only real difference that I can see is that those offended in this case are an ethnically homogeneous group, whereas those offended in the case of the Mosque were a diverse group of New Yorkers. I’m sure that you will gladly inform me of how I am unfairly missing something here, so please enlighten me.

            “She should not have had to defend herself from pure, hateful, dishonest slander…” True. And she probably shouldn’t have been singled out as the only one using ugly, violent imagery to get her point across on a webpage. And yes, “She has every right to say, ‘How dare anyone denigrate me like this and try to implicate me in an unspeakable evil? Is there no decency?’” So, I ask myself — would I feel the same way if the year were 1972 and the Media were trying to say that George McGovern’s (my candidate) rhetoric or political strategies provoked Arthur Bremer to attempt to assassinate George Wallace? Silly example, of course. My answer would have been “Yes” anyway, though. Wallace was the victim.

            • I make that distinction because it’s real. For example, people who are not Native Americans keep saying that they are “offended” by the long-standing Washington Redskins name, though many polls of real Native Americans show that they couldn’t care less, that the name of a fanatically loved sports team can’t possibly be intended offensively, since it is linked to a positive. Convenient offense is offense that is generated not by any genuine or reasonable objection, but as a way to exercise power. I also think offense at words alone is inherently suspect. The Islamic center is a bad analogy, because it is a tangible structure, representing the same religious group, albeit a radical end of it, that attacked and killed innocent Americans, and has continued to threaten them. A permanent structure symbolizing Islam in proximity to where the attacks took place cannot be compared to the use of one phrase, in one Facebook message, can it? Perhaps if Sarah Pailn’s voice repeating “blood libel’ over and over again was piped through a speaker aimed at every synogogue in Manhattan, that would be closer. 1) Palin, unless you adopt blakeart’s conspiracy theory, almost certainly didn’t intend the phrase to be offensive or know it would be, whereas it strains credulity to believe that the “Ground Zero Mosque” organizers didn’t know their plans would be controversial 2) she can, and probably will, choose not to use the word again, while a structure represents a continuing offense to many, and an unnecessary one. 3) Islam IS Connected to the 9-11 tragedy, because it was done in the name of Islam, by Islamic radicals. If you can prove to me that Loughner was shouting “Palin be Praised!!!” or “Tea Party forever!” as he fired, then I’ll consider the comparison. Otherwise, it’s desperate.

              Palin “probably” shouldn’t have been singled out? 1) She wasn’t–the Tea Party, Marc Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and others got the same accusation, and 2) It’s not a matter of being singled out, it is that she shouldn’t have been accused at all, and 3) those accusing her were substantially guilty of as uncivil discourse or worse. Ever listen to Air America? Chris Matthews has been relentless and personal in his attacks on Palin. Liberal blogs wrote approvingly and enthusiastically about a British film called “The Assassination of George W. Bush.” What was going on when Wanda Sykes “joked” at the Correspondants dinner that Rush limbaugh wasn’t “saying anything differently than what Osama bin Laden is saying. You know, you might want to look into this, sir, because I think Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker. But he was just so strung out on OxyContin he missed his flight….Rush Limbaugh, “I hope the country fails?” I hope his kidneys fail, how about that? He needs a good waterboarding, that’s what he needs.” And Obama laughed along with rest of the audience. The press is reporting a huge up-tick in death-threats against Palin—who do you think is responsible for that? She should not have even been in the conversation.

              I repeat: the only fair, ethical and responsible words she should be getting from any of these people is “I’m sorry.”

    • LOL! I heard “pundints” as well!
      I thought her post was defensive, self-serving and predictable. While I agree that singling her out may be a bit unfair, she is certainly one of the more popular faces that represent an entire array of right-wing personalities that freely engage in reckless, inaccurate and violent rhetoric. Bachman, Angle, Beck, Limbaugh and O’Reilly have all said some pretty horrible things *repeatedly* (one of the benefits of their frequent and redundant appearances), and while I’m certain there are some on the Left who have said some equally tasteless commentary, they do not have the prominence, frequency or exposure as the former, and therefore do not influence as wide a scope.

      • I don’t know what you’re “laughing out loud” about. Apparently you didn’t read any of the other posts about this disgraceful performance by the press, and think the fact that Palin’s views don’t jibe with your own make her fair game for a media smear attack. It doesn’t.

        1) What a surprise that a woman who had been accused up and down the media of provoking a mass murder would be “defensive.” Apparently you think the rules of decency are different for Ms. Palin than the rest of the human race. Damn right she’s defensive, and has every right to be.
        2. “Singling her out” for WHAT? You do realize, by nowthat Sarah’s map had absolutely nothing to do with Loughner, that he didn’t see it, didn’t care about her, nada? And that bringing her use of hunting and gun metaphors ( colorful, but by no definition “uncivil.” by the way) made as much sense as tying a nutcase’s mental illness-inspired rampage to rap music, the Tide commercial, global warming, or the designated hitter in the American League? There was no justification for any of the media attacks on Palin, Limbaugh or any of the others at this time, other than a biased media trying to discredit figures who offend its sense of what a female politicians, talking heads and political movements should say and act like. Journalists are supposed to report news, instead they spread their own speculation.
        3) Given that, your personal opinion of right wing commentators is really beside the point, as Loughner didn’t listen to them either. And if it was shown that he only heard Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz and Joy Behar, would you still say it was fair to connect his shootings to Sarah Palin Rush Limbaugh? I sure hope not. Please reassure me.
        4) “Tasteless” commentary means it is not to your taste—that doesn’t allow you or anyone else to falsely equate it to murder. Right?

        • I was responding to an earlier poster (Patrice, I believe) who thought Ms. Palin mispronounced “pundits.” I was “LOL” because someone else caught the same mistake I believed I did – a little levity is not a bad thing here as long as it is not being vulgar or crass. I thought I hit the “reply” button following her comments. If my comment was placed elsewhere, I can see why this opening sentence may have been off-putting.
          As for your other points made. The tone is quite a contrast from earlier posts you have made, but I will assume you are taking me to task for being flippant, since you did not understand why I would be “LOL.”
          I have read many comments in this string as well as read and heard many pundits and politicians speaking of the unfairness of singling out Palin and others, or trying to link them *directly* to the murders. If push came to shove and I had to choose between two extremes, then I would say Palin, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Beck, Bachmann, Angle had nothing to do with the murders.
          However, this, like other commentary that attempts to completely absolve these commentators glosses over the issue and does not convey the larger environment. Words matter. People go to church or temple or tent and listen to their minister, priest, rabbi to try and make sense of their world, lives, conscience. An article by Mark Osler conveys this point with more eloquence than I have. He says, “As I carry a Bible into church I am testifying that words are important, that they imbue our lives with meaning, that they damn well do inspire action. The Gospels, words in a book, are at the heart of my beliefs about God and human relationships. I certainly do hope that they inspire action. So do most Christians. Christ had no army, he had no formal power — all he had were words. And if we believe that those words of love can change the world, why do we doubt that words of contempt and anger can inspire violence in the weakest among us?”
          In an environment of polarizing vitriol where people flippantly, flagrantly demonize others, and Palin’s and Limbaugh’s language is demonizing, it is plain to me to see that violent action is the logical consequence; either from a person with an obvious (albeit misguided beef with the government like, Tim McVeigh), or some poor sap with little grasp of reality.
          I agree that journalists should report news. We see little of it these days of 24/7 coverage, and most either repeat what another reporter stated (one network in particular even quotes their own “reporters” as “sources”) and that, the most banal and pedestrian. I hope this clears things up.

          • My apologies, sincerely. 1) I was put off by “LOL” 2) I hadn’t had my cup of coffee, and was cranky and sick. Ethics rule: don’t respond to comments when you are ticked off at the world. My fault; please excuse me.

            I have written extensively about the need to be responsible with rhetoric, which does not mean that if someone thinks another person is ill-motivated, they have an obligation to say so. I wasn’t demonizing Tom Delay for five years as I wrote that he was corrupting the House and the US government….he was. I wasn’t demonizing Bill Clinton, or Eric Holder, Charlie Rangel, or Sharron Agle, or Glenn Beck, or the US media in this episode but I used tough words to describe, I believe accurately, their conduct. It is nearly impossible for someone with a vested interest to be objective about what constitutes legitimate criticism.

            Palin is not uncivil, for the most part. Neither, believe it or not, is Rush Limbaugh (I monitor all the talk shows). Marc Levin, Michael Savage, yes. Alan Grayson, Keith Olbermann, Ed Schultz, Glenn Beck (sometimes), absolutely. But the fact that Limbaugh and Palin were highlighted shows you what was really going on here. The connection was drawn to stifle conservative criticism. Has any of these people said anything close to Rev. Wright’s “God DAMN America!”? Absolutely not. And yet that statement is more inflammatory, concerning shooting Congress members, than anything Sarah Palin has ever written or said.

            Yes, words have meaning, and so do misleading associations. As I wrote in my initial post on this whole issue, the matters of conservative rhetoric and the Tucson shooting are 100% distinct. If the rhetoric wasn’t objectionable (objectively) BEFORE Tucson, it wasn’t after Tucson either, because Loughner wasn’t motivated by rhetoric. And for the media to make the connection they did, in the complete absence of facts, was irresponsible, biased, unfair, and really, really stupid.

            I’ll discuss incivility in public discourse til the cows come home, but not in connection with Jared Loughner….because that is flat out inaccurate and unfair.

            • I appreciate your apology and accept it sincerely. I will avoid using text messaging acrostics and symbols as well :). (OK, starting now). I agree that it is difficult to be objective when trying to determine what is legitimate criticism, but hyperbole is not necessarily like what one justice said about trying to define pornography: “I’ll know it when I see it.” If you or I are appalled about a politician giving out checks to US Representatives on the floor of the Congress from a major cigarette manufacturer just before a vote on legislation affecting said company, it is easy to see this as corrupting. However, if a politician is trying to move legislation that will give millions of Americans access to healthcare, it is irresponsible, if not blatantly foolish, to accuse this politician of being a “socialist,” or “trying to subvert our government.” In the absence of a legitimate debate point, resorting to this kind of inflammatory language purposefully corrals the sentiments of those who do not, cannot, and will not critically analyze the issues; it clouds the discussion with an impertinent accusation, and creates a façade or layer to the discussion that is a lie from the beginning and serves to derail any further legitimate discussion.
              In aiming criticism at Delay, while I have not read your posts regarding him, I can assume to some degree that you did a fair amount of research with some thoroughness before posting your views based solely on my perception of other things you have written. While I agree this is not the most scholarly way to vet accuracy, indulge me my point anyway. (If there is a link to the articles, I would like to read them). To the point, if disagreements are there, then it is incumbent on the debaters to actually know something of truth of the subject and not just make up shait. That said, I know there are those masters of sophistry who are adept at including just the right amount of truth, encased in a weiner-wrap of lies. These “pigs-in-a-blanket” comments confuse and misinform people who are less than vigorous when it comes to vetting, and you have alluded to this practice in an article about TR.
              Political disagreements will always be present, but when frustration and anger from an inability to convey a compelling or convincing point gives way to the strategies of demonizing one’s opponent for their views, then this begins the downward spiral and any common ground gives way to a widening chasm. In the media, these lies get repeated so often, they take on a life of their own and no amount of discussion (or a 2×4) will separate these people from their ingrained narrative. Yes, I said 2×4, which implies violent imagery attesting to my own frustrations when speaking to people resistant to facts, history or truth. I am not advocating violence here, but emphasizing that even a blow to the head wouldn’t change their minds, making the act futile anyway. Hence, there is resonance to your comments about being objective. Does this mean I have demonized my opponent by using this kind of rhetoric? Am I being hypocritical? There is irrefutable proof of Obama’s US citizenship; as much proof as you or I possess of our own citizenship. Yet, there are those who refuse to believe this. Is it demonizing to suggest these people are resistant to facts, history or truth, implying some defect in their knowledge and/or intellect? Or worse, are they unwitting (or willing) participants in a propaganda scheme to keep these kinds of accusations alive for political purpose? I speculate in this way in one desperate attempt to make some sense as to how anyone could deny these things that are fairly obvious.
              I appreciate and value your adherence to finding an ethical path and reporting those who you believe are not and lauding those who are. Perhaps this is a task more of us should take on, not just so we can assess others, but so we can more honestly assess and address ourselves, our motives, our intentions. In regards to your comments on Ms. Palin and others in the conservative realm and your view they are being civil, I do not agree, but I am impressed with your point enough to check myself for honesty and in the way in which I apply my own ethics. I am not interested in stifling “conservative criticism.” What is passing for conservative criticism today is something else. There is so little variation from the Right in the words and tone used by virtually all members, that it is difficult for me not to believe the message is being dictated. The “Oath of Loyalty” doesn’t do much to dissuade either. I realize I’ve waxed a bit tangential, so I’ll stop here.

  4. To wrap up:

    (1) Palin did not start using the term to refer to this situation, others did.

    (2) She is using the term as others did to refer to the situation.

    (3) Unlikely defenders have come forward to claim that this is at least an OK usage of the term.

    (4) It is really a stretch to think that Sarah Palin came up with the idea to intentionally insult the Jewish community at the same time that she was trying to get the media to stop blaming her for murders she had nothing to do with.

    To take this set of events and then claim racial offense looks more like the first niggardly principle and Sarah Palin isn’t the one violating it.

    I personally think Sarah Palin is a small-time politician in way over her head. She should have faded away into the sunset except that the media and other Democrats hate her so much that they keep on attacking her needlessly. By doing so, they are turning her into the most important conservative politician in the country and she doesn’t even hold office. If they don’t knock it off, they are going to make her president.

    “Don’t give in to hate. That leads to the Dark Side.” Obi-Wan Kenobi, “The Empire Strikes Back”

  5. That Alan Derschowitz has used “blood libel” to attack the Goldstone report doesn’t tell us much about the propriety of Sarah Palin’s usage. Derschowitz was trying to paint the Goldstone report as anti-semitic. Saying it is blood libel was directly relating to its original meaning. For him to suggest otherwise is disengenuous.

    I don’t know of any usages of blood libel that do not tie into anti-semitism. Other than the Glenn Reynolds piece, can you point me to any examples of this?

    • Jonah Goldberg? You call that “research”? Sorry—I tuned him out after he made the jaw-dropping argument that because Boy Jared described his hit on the Congresswoman as an “assassination,” that proved it was political.

      So what if the term is usually used in that context? Since when does the English language prohibit broadening a context? “Blood libel”, by its word components, accurately describes what was being done to Palin et al—suggesting that they had blood on their hands, when they did not. I can’t think of a more vivid and evocative term that properly shows how miserably unfair and dishonest these accusations were. I still can’t. It’s a blood libel. Find me a better term, and I might use it. If I like it.

      Derschowitz, he of the defend Bill Clinton til the last dog dies rhetoric, is being disingenuous to defend Sarah Palin? How does THAT compute? What does the uber-liberal Harvard prof have to gain from siding with Sarah? He jsut agrees with me, that’s all: this was an abomination. The whole ugly episode quickly turned into an effort by the worst of the Left to try to limit language: one Congressman is actually claiming that using the term “job-killing” should be banned as hate speech. The manufactured flap over “blood libel”—note that Jonah didn’t feel it was offensive when his colleague used the term (from whence I first quoted it), only when Palin used it to defend herself—is an undemocratic effort to attack someone without cause and then take away the proper description of the attack, so it can’t be properly characterized as what it is: a despicable use of lies and innuendo to attach an innocent party to an unspeakable evil—like blood libel. Just because something was done worse to the Jews doesn’t give them a monopoly on the term describing it.
      Don’t tell me I didn’t “research” whose political correct speech prohibitions to use—check the blog. I have objected to efforts to ban “Fuck,” “nigger” and “retard”—I’m certainly not going to recoil from “blood libel,” especially when it’s 100% appropriate, as it is here.

      • I at least did something. Did you do any research on this? I just want 1 blood libel reference before this week that does not reference the anti-semitic roots of the term. Just 1.

        Words change meaning over time. That doesn’t mean that the first misuses (and that’s what they are at first) are good. My neighbors are all porch monkeys. They hang out on their porches all day doing very little, so it fits. I can’t come up with a better term for it, so that’s that.

        I don’t know what game Derschowitz is playing. His usage in criticizing the Goldstone report is clear for the eye to see. Maybe he’s trying to come up with balance somehow, or to lessen his outrageous attacks. The Goldstone report was not great, but his attacks were horribly flawed.

        I, in no way, defended anyone who was attacking Sarah Palin for contributing to the shooting. I wasn’t even attacking Palin for using the term blood libel. I’m attacking you for being another reactionary jumping to conclusions.

        The problem is not that someone used blood libel, it’s how it was used. It does not compare to fuck, nigger, or retard. Those are just insults. “Fuck you retarded nigger” is highly offensive, but at least the words are used properly. Blood libel originally referred to a specific situation, and then has come to refer to all horrible anti-semitic slurs. Maybe, one day, it will refer to anytime someone attacks someone for causing deaths they didn’t cause. It doesn’t now.

        Palin used a term in a horrible way. I suspect she didn’t realize what she was doing. I’m not cynical enough to think she did it to rile people up. It’s either a standard gaffe, or shows a lack of knowledge. Either way, it’s not a huge deal and didn’t deserve the response it received.

        • So I’m a “reactionary” for saying it doesn’t deserve the response it received? Who researches an apt phrase on the off chance that it has connotations that the word police object to? I don’t, and I have no obligation to do so. Glenn Reynolds used the term in relation to the attack on Palin—he’s a respected writer and scholar, maybe he was the very first to so use it—so what? That’s how phrases become useful.
          It is just silly to say Palin used the term in a “horrible way.” Why? To defend Sarah Palin? Libel is libel, blood is blood, and blood libel is libel that unfairly blames someone for murder. From the moment is was used to describe this situation, it described this situation.

          Why is Derschowitz playing a game? Why can’t you take his assertion at face value? Apparently, based on Reynold and the Dersch, that’s how they use “blood libel” at Harvard these days. Good enough for me. Good enough for Sarah. You don’t like it? Use another term.

          • So I’m a “reactionary” for saying it doesn’t deserve the response it received?

            If you don’t know what you’re talking about, then yes. You don’t seem to understand that blood libel does not simply mean blaming death on someone without evidence. That you are doubling down in the incorrect definition is even worse. Like I said, my neighbors are technically porch monkeys.

            Glenn Reynolds used the term in relation to the attack on Palin—he’s a respected writer and scholar, maybe he was the very first to so use it—so what? That’s how phrases become useful.

            That he was not attacked and Palin was would be a good topic for an ethics post. That he used the term incorrectly is not a defense of using it incorrectly. The term already had a meaning and was useful. Are you saying that there is no point in having a phrase that perfectly explains the smears of anti-semitism?

            Why is Derschowitz playing a game? Why can’t you take his assertion at face value?

            Because I read his response to the Goldstone report last summer following the back and forth at another blog. I can go first hand on this one. When I read it, it was obvious to me what he was doing, and it was effective. Without the history, it wouldn’t have packed as much punch. That he denies the intention now only undercuts the points he was making previously.

            You don’t like it? Use another term.

            Really? So, if two Harvard professors are calling blacks niggers, I should just suck it up. It’s good enough for Sarah, and it’s good enough for you.

            • This is all false equivalency. The term is not being used to describe anything offensive, nor is it being cheapened. If someone says they have met their Waterloo, that is not offensive to Napoleon. If I compare being ganged up on my website as like being at the Alamo, my meaning is clear, and I’m not cheapening Texas heroism. I do not see how using “blood libel” to describe a situation where the facts are clear can or should reasonably offend anybody. Frankly, I’m surprised that you would endorse “ownership” of words and phrases. I don’t, and there’s nothing reactionary about it. (By the way, “double-down” is blackjack term, and I’m not gambling. But I know what you mean.)

              I will agree that Derschowitz is a trick bastard, and it is not beneath him to have ulterior motives for taking any public position, so I can’t rule out your theory,

              • Waterloo is commonly used to mean a staggering defeat. It has meant that since the beginning, and it still means that. If you say you met your waterloo because you found a flush toilet, I’d say you were using the term wrong. That’s not what it means, and adding that meaning in only brings confusion. (Thanks for picking a term that is the amalgamation of two common terms, but doesn’t mean what the individual terms mean. It was perfectly applicable.)

                Double down is also a common term that I used appropriately. Again, it doesn’t apply to this situation.

                I agree 100% on Derschowitz there. There’s a reason I read his response to Goldstone. I didn’t trust people’s summaries or his basic word. Can I be downgraded from liberal stooge to liberal mouseketeer?

                • Isn’t that an upgrade?
                  No, you properly reminded me of the proclivities of Prof. D. This is what happened when you try to give people you don’t trust the benefit of the doubt for convenience’s sake.

                  • I’m going to rationalize my terminology and say that the stooge’s were always on point, but mouseketeers were unprofessional and accidentally went off script fairly frequently.

                    I will also now replace my telling friends I need to “hit the head” with “conquer my waterloo” to see if it catches on. Considering I had a shy bladder early in life (I blame Catholicism), I can use the term correctly and incorrectly at once.

    • Okay, so “Blood Libel” is racially offensive? I specifically asked for a list of terms, phrases, and words that were offensive several months ago, and this was never raised. That leads me to believe that it is conveniently offensive.

      I think the only outrage people have is that it was effective at describing EXACTLY what was occurring.

      But please, let’s look at the phrase from a 21st century logical conclusion. From what I gather (from what I have read) there were lies (libel) about Jewish rituals that insinuated the use of blood. Take a step back. There were words written and the Jewish community identified those words as libel and more specifically identified that they were libelous about the use of blood. They coined a term now known as “Blood Libel” to describe this form of Anti-Semitic speech.

      Stop me if I’ve screwed something up. I’ll gladly retract.

      “Blood Libel” as a term is not Anti-Semitic as it was invented and used by the Jewish community. What was being said of the Jewish rituals was Anti-Semitic. Engaging in in “Blood Libel” may be Anti-Semitic if directed at the Jewish community. However, “Blood Libel” is too generic of a term to limit to one instance in the history of the world. It would be akin to saying all racist remarks are derogatory to black people. No. Racist remarks are racist against those for whom they are directed.

      Face it. It’s an effective, accurate term to describe what is being directed at Palin. It’s not racist for Palin to call it what it is.

      • Blood libel on it’s own is not offensive. Using blood libel to mean attacks that are based on an individual’s actual statements and actions (instead of knowingly false attacks on an entire race) is offensive. It greatly cheapens the term.

        • Tgt, you are waaaay out on a logical limb on this one. So if someone falsely claims that “why is this night unlike any other night?” was really a coded call from Jews to Sam of Sam to start shooting Gentiles, it’s offensive to call the claim “blood libel”? Or can only the words of Jews, thus used, qualify as blood libel?
          Gee, I wasn’t aware that our language was segregated by faith and ethnic origin. If Palin was Jewish, could she say she was the victim of blood libel without being called insensitive? This, is really, not just crap, but silly crap. “Cheapens” the term? Who sets the price? You? The International Politically Correct Wording Exchange? The JDL? I think it increase the value of a term if it becomes more, rather than less, useful. Isn’t that how economics works? “Blood libel.” I like it!

          • Your strawman was horrible. I even explained why this statement was different, so your attack is obviously off point. You, unfortunately, are making the term less useful by applying it to a host of situations. Blood libel has been used to describe attacks on an entire race or community, not an individual. I’m pretty sure the Hatfields and McCoys participated blood libel, but it’s hard to claim attacks on Palin for things she did say, and could have contributed to the situation, were blood libel.

            • To be clear, I’m not saying Palin’s statements contributed to this one event, but it’s not particularly odd for people to make that connection.

            • So “blood” in your version of “blood libel” refers to “race” rather than the libel itself, which involved bloody crimes? That’s good to know, but not intrinsically obvious. MY “blood libel,” and I suspect Prof. Reynolds’, involves libel involving blood, as in “blood on my hands.” So they are really two different phrases entirely. Fortunately, the context in which they are used should eliminate any confusion, so there should be no cause for offense.

              And yes, a term that can be used in more than a narrow and archaic context (how much of your kind of “blood libel” is around these days?) is more, rather than less, useful. Obviously.

              • “Those lazy welfare queens.”
                “The mexicans, they just come here to take advantage of our country. ”
                “Their kind just wants to bomb us.”

                Do I need to go on?

                Is blood libel intrinsically obvious? No, but neither is porch monkey. Does that change the meaning of those terms one iota? No. If I call my neighbors porch monkeys, is it intrinsically obvious that I’m referring to the idea that they hang out on their porches? I’d think I was just calling them black.

                  • If I said “those porch monkeys down the street piss me off” in Baltimore City, I’m pretty sure I’d get beat up. “What, that’s a term for black people? I didn’t know! I was just talking about my neighbors of all races that chill on their porches! Please don’t hurt me!”

                    The problem is the term has an inherent meaning. Palin’s statement was a Gaffe. She used a term incorrectly based on the meaning of the subterms. That was it. An immediate emotional response makes sense. After figuring out the problem, an apology on the part of the attackers and a correction on the part of the speaker makes sense.

        • “…attacks that are based on an individual’s actual statements and actions…”

          Not just attacks. Libelous attacks.

          Not libelous attacks based on what she said and did. Libelous attacks based on murders committed by a lunatic that had no connection to that individual’s actual statements and actions.

          You got more bullshit to spew?

          • See above. The main point was about blood libel dealing with an entire race or group, where the libel was based on their race or group, not individual statements.

            Was this libel? Some of it, probably. Much of it, no. Blood libel? 100% no.

            • Well, which is it? Blood Libel? Blood Accusation? Ritual Sacrifice Libel? I’ve seen all 3 of these interchangeably. If I accused you of slaying a child and then using the blood to honor the devil, are you saying that is not blood libel because you aren’t Jewish?

              • I’m saying that’s not blood libel because you are accusing me, specifically, of doing so without any connection to a group. It’s just straight up libel. If you claimed that all Irish did that, and I’m Irish, so I do that, you’d be committing blood libel. See the really important distinction?

                • I now see where our difference of opinion is. (I can’t believe it took 42 comments to get there.)

                  You believe that it’s a libel against the (metaphorical) blood of an entire race.

                  I believe it’s a libel about the use of (actual) blood in a ritual.

                  • The funny thing is that I knew exactly what you were saying the entire time and I defined it and explained how your usage (to me) was wrong repeatedly. Now that we’re on the same page, does anyone care to do a thorough researching of what this term normally means?

                    • I’ve done the research. Palin’s use is not the way the term is traditionally defined. The connection of “blood” to “libel’ still accurately describes what she was subjected to. She can decide whether her use was a gaffe or not. I think it was vivid language, that made her point. Which is what language is supposed to do.

                    • Vivid language is good. Vivid language that accidentally has another meaning is the definition of a gaffe. No intent to cause harm, but she should note that she misused the term. I completely understand her saying it. I didn’t understand your defense of it.

                • Considering I’ve seen Blood Libel interchanged with Ritual Sacrifice Libel out there in that interwebs thing…. I’d have to say my opinion can stand. But I’m now willing to look at the evidence you have to present that shows “blood” in Blood Libel refers to a race and not to the use of blood in ritual sacrifice.

                  • Thanks for taking up the challenge before I stated it. I want to clarify that I don’t believe it has to be race, specifically. Though it was originally smears agains those of Jewish blood, it also incorporated Jewish people who were not of Jewish blood. It was attacking an entire group. Saying it’s blood libel that Pagan’s perform ritual sacrifice fits the definition I understand.

                    • To that, I can only say that if it is not limited in application to Jewish blood, but to any blood race, how can Jewish people be the purveyors of offense when the term is used?

                      Basically, what this has all come to is that either my definition works and there’s no offense because Palin used the term correctly.

                      Or your definition works, in which case Palin incorrectly used the term, but there is no offense because none can be claimed from a term that applies to any race (including Irish, Caucasian, Catholic, Baptist, etc.)

                    • I never said anything about offense. It was the defense of her misuse that I attacked. The only offense that occurred was to the English language and our ability to communicate.

                    • And that’s wrong. I only defended her attacks for the immediate emotional response. After that, they suck, too.

                    • Correction. I did say it was offensive and that the term was cheapened. I’m sticking by cheapened, but may have to walk back offensive. Is it offensive to say that killing me would be a genocide? If so, I stand by it. If not, then I surrender that particular phrase.

  6. Uhhh – I KINDA disagree. Words matter – and Palin’s handlers new exACTly what they were doing when they inserted that kind of language into her speech – to either purposely scuttle her as a candidate, or to send a ‘coded language’ to her extremist base, giving them a ‘subliminal Palin WINK’ she has become so famous for, letting them know that the Onus is on those on the so-called ‘left’ – if there’s anything but a peep from them, that justifies any action we want to put into play… it’s 1984 NWO mumbo jumbo at its finest..!

    To me, it’s a ‘Whites Unite’ shot across the bow of those who deem themselves trying to keep a lid on the ready to boil over rhetoric. Over the past 72 hours I’ve heard all over the radio and blogispheres evidence of this ‘Neo-Confederate’ movement, for lack of a better terminology, that bases its belief system in backwards, uncivilized behavior – and those who are struggling for enlightenment are so far past this ignorant mind SET.

    Make no mistake again – the very powerful force behind Palin is pushing the envelope like an abusive spouse, daring us to fight back…. so they can justify what they want to do – beat us free thinking Liberal Progressives, who want IMO prosperity for All, no matter what Race, Creed, Color, or Sexual Orientation.

    I deal with it here in a bit more detail:


    • I gotta hand it to you—you can find conspiracies everywhere and anywhere. Someone defends herself by calling an outright fabricated accusation what it is, and you see a coded message to the Klan. Holy cats.

      PS: My belief that it is wrong to connect graphics on a map with the snapping mind of conspiracy-maddened nut case does not make me a “Neo-Confederate,{ whatever the hell that is, in case you’re going there. (Where’s that aluminum foil?)

  7. By the very fact of publishing lengthy stories (and I use that term advisedly) and commentaries about the attacks on Palin and her defense against them, the media is implying that there was some substance in there after all, that it was a matter for serious debate.
    But, even more to the point, is the way the media seems to be attempting to divert attention away from the fact that they got the story wrong originally. It was, within hours of the news of the shootings, assumed by journalists (another word used advisedly) that the murderer had a political agenda, and that the usual suspects—anyone to the right of them—were ultimately responsible. Upon finding out that, oops, the murderer is a lone loonie with no real political leanings, did they then say (to paraphrase the Washington Post in 1948) “Ms. Palin, we’ll eat crow whenever you’re ready to serve it?” Oh, heck no. No, the mere fact that Sarah Palin resents the libel and had the temerity to defend herself against it…well, you know the rest of that sad saga. That, I sometimes think, is what’s really wrong with Journalism today: An extreme unwillingness to admit error.

    • Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Where is the admission that this is just plain wrong??? Where is the accountability, the integrity? I am honestly surprised that editors and publishers would let their bias show so brightly.

  8. Pingback: Tweets that mention Blood Libel Ethics and the U.S. News Media’s Integrity Dead End | Ethics Alarms --

  9. Not to get this ginned up again, but I just added this to the post, thanks to a note in James Taranto’s WSJ blog:
    “More evidence that “blood libel” used in a non-Jewish context only alarms pundits when it comes from Sarah Palin: Newsbusters’ researchers report that on Dec. 19, 2000, Chris Matthews and guest Jack Kemp were discussing an NAACP Voter Fund campaign ad “basically blaming [George W.] Bush for the James Byrd horror story,” the racist murder that occurred during Bush’s tenure as Texas governor. Kemp described the ad as “a brutal, brutal ad hominem blood libel ad against George W. Bush,” without any objection from Matthews, who has joined the chorus of pundits “shocked” at Palin’s choice of words. NewsBusters also quotes MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle as saying, in 2006, on MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country,” “The problem for Kerry here is that two years ago, Joe, he did not talk like that when he was undergoing a blood libel by the Swift Boat people.”

    So at least based on this admittedly small sampling, Derschowitz is correct: “blood libel” has been used in a non-Jewish, non-group context, and apparently without objection (or perhaps notice.)

  10. I’m coming in on this VERY late, Jack, so there’s no way for me to cover all the comments. But I read your essay and found it to be one of your best. Like you, I was amazed at Alan Dershowitz’s forthrightness! I’d just offer, at this point, that few things set off alarm bells in my head faster than when some reporter asks a hapless interviewee, “Questions have been asked…”. Nine times out of ten, it seems, that’s a counterfeit media term for, “J’accuse”.

  11. I saw that, Jack. I can only assume that some on the Left, stung by the popular rejection of the early, frenzied attempts to pin the Tucson tragedy on notable conservatives, are trying to back away under the verbal smokescreen of “Can’t we all just get along?”. It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve employed the Rodney King Defense in this manner.

  12. I do not know if yon had already read this, but Eugene Robinson, a Washington Post columnist, had the nerve to actually claim that Sarah Palin was responsible for giving the impression that it was All About Sarah .

    The day of the shooting, Westboro Baptist Church Fred Phelps produced a video claiming that God sent the shooter , andc generally blaming the shooting on “fags and dikes”. It was astonishing that Robinson and much of the American media took a lower moral and ethical path than Fred Phelps.

    • When it comes to Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, the liberal-biased portion of the news media (that is to say, almost all of it) is literally capable of anything. That’s why she’s able to spin episodes when she actually lives up the media’s low portrayal of her, as in her idiotic Paul Revere blather, as more Palin-hating hit jobs.

      Robinson may be the worst opinion columnist ever to win a Pulitzer Prize.

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