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.
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.