The column is a weekly feature on the Times opinion pages. Snarky progressive shill Gail Collins supposedly debates pseudo-conservative pundit Bret Stephens (who has called for the repeal of the Second Amendment) on various issues of the day. It is written as a spontaneous conversation, which it obviously is not: I detest the format, which is inherently deceptive. Ted Kennedy and Orin Hatch used to have a radio spot where they would debate an issue “from the right and left.” The two were obviously reading from an agreed-upon script, and not very convincingly. It insulted listeners’ intelligence, as this column insults Times readers. Here’s how today’s installment begins:
Gail Collins: Bret, we have all kinds of deeply important issues to tackle. But let’s start with Tucker Carlson. We’ve learned he didn’t really believe all the stuff he said on TV about a “stolen” election. Shocking!
Bret Stephens: They say that hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue, but in this case it’s the tribute that cynicism pays to cowardice.
Gail: Since you’re in charge of that side of our world, I really want to hear your opinion.
Bret: I sometimes think of Carlson in the same mold as Father Coughlin, but worse: At least Coughlin was an honest-to-God fascist, a sincere bigot, whereas Carlson only plays one on TV for the sake of ratings.
Gail: Wow, been a while since I heard a Father Coughlin comparison.
Bret: As for Fox, the way in which it is trying to “respect” its viewers is to lie to them. I can only wish Dominion Voting Systems well in its $1.6 billion lawsuit against the network for claiming that its voting machines played a role in Donald Trump’s loss. I believe in strong protections against frivolous lawsuits, but knowingly and recklessly spreading falsehoods about the subject of one’s reporting is the very definition of — dare I say it — fake news.
Gail: Glad we can come together on the importance of not making up the news.
- The first comment by Collins is fair and valid, as Ethics Alarms pointed out last week and has before. Carlson has forfeited any credibility by repeatedly being exposed as asserting positions on the air that he contradicts elsewhere. He’s a performance artist, like James Carville, Ann Coulter and Bill Maher. Who knows what he really believes? And it is indeed disturbing that someone like Carlson has any influence on public opinion at all.
- Comparing Tucker to Father Coughlin (above) is a cheap shot, and for a so-called “conservative” voice at the Times to call Carlson’s pronouncement as “fascist’ unmasks Stephens as a Democrat propagandist allying himself with President Biden’s “Soul of the Nation” diatribe—which was fascist. Nor have I seen any evidence that Carlson is a bigot or “plays one on TV.” Coughlin was, in contrast, a villain of epic proportions, using his status as a Catholic priest to spread anti-Semitism in the U.S. and oppose aid to Europe’s Jews when they were about to be exterminated. Carlson is just a guy with an opinion who happens to be on TV; he certainly isn’t appearing as a messenger of God.
- If Stephens believes in “strong protections against frivolous lawsuits,” it’s because 1) he doesn’t understand what a frivolous lawsuit is and 2) he doesn’t support the civil justice system.
- How dare two writers for the Times display the hypocrisy—while condemning hypocrisy!—slam the practice of “knowingly and recklessly spreading falsehoods about the subject of one’s reporting”? This has become routine for the Times, and the practice includes willfully refusing to report facts about “the subject of one’s reporting” when the facts contradict the papers’ political agenda. Incredibly, Stephens himself admitted in a 2022 column that “the Steele dossier and all the bogus allegations, credulously parroted in the mainstream media, that flowed from it—elaborate hoax” and that “there’s just no other word for it.” His paper, and Collins’, was a prominent participant and cheerleader of that hoax.
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A side note: thoroughly enjoyed the left/right “debates” between Kennedy and Simpson in the mid-80s. They did not seem scripted. They were diametrically opposed on many issues, but civil.
I had forgotten that Ted had Simpson as his foil before Hatch…and for much longer, too! Simpson was such a wonderful, smart presence in the Senate, and as far from and ideologue as he could be. And everyone got along with Teddy, by all accounts, a hard-working, dedicated, professional legislator.
When I hosted a CODEL to France, one Senator started Teddy jokes. Al Simpson stood up, looking like a vulture bent over that Senator, and said “Anyone that doesn’t understand that Kennedy believes in public service does not understand Kennedy. We’ll have no more of that.” Sen Simpson was a (not close) friend while in DC, and is one of the most clever, honest, straightforward, and funniest people I have had the privilege to know. (And his brother was just as funny. Could have been a great stand-up team).
I had two encounters with Simpson…a lunch with him next to me at the US Chamber, during which he imparted his philosophy of legislation (“Ideology is fine until you have to deal with real life; then you do what has to be done, and to hell with ideology!”) and when I ran into him at an airport more than 20 years later. I approached him and began, “Senator, I don’t want to interrupt, I just wanted to say hello. You probably don’t remember me…” and he said immediately, “Sure I do, Jack: US Chamber, right? The immigration stuff. Good to see you! How have you been?”