Across the U.S. political and media spectrum, there
was wide agreement yesterday: Name-calling and personal attacks
are bad for national and global dialogue. Prompting the unity were
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez' comments that President Bush was
the devil incarnate, "El Diablo".
Among those exercised (and exorcized) about Chavez'
name-calling were some of the loudest name-callers in American media
today -- including Rush Limbaugh and other rightwing talk hosts.
Limbaugh tried to equate Chavez' remarks with the alleged Bush-bashing
that comes from top U.S. Democrats. In case you've forgotten, it
was Limbaugh who ridiculed Chelsea Clinton, then 13, as the “White
It was Limbaugh in 2001 who routinely referred to
Democratic leader Tom Daschle, literally, as “El Diablo”. Along
with "Devil in a Blue Dress" theme music, Limbaugh would
carry on at length about how Daschle may well be Satan in soft-spoken
disguise. Bellowed Limbaugh in July 2001: "Just yesterday,
as Bush winged his way to Europe on a crucial mission to lead our
allies into the 21st century...up pops 'El Diablo,' Tom Daschle,
and his devilish deviltry, claiming that George Bush is incompetent."
Months later, Limbaugh started describing Daschle more as a traitor
than a devil, who'd decided to "align himself with Iran, North
Korea and Hussein”.
Also incensed by Chavez was MSNBC host and former
GOP Congressman, Joe Scarborough - who last night played a lengthy
excerpt of Limbaugh pontificating about the Chavez remarks. Somehow
Scarborough couldn't dig up the tapes of Limbaugh declaring that
Daschle was the devil.
In my new book
Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media, I
dissect the hypocrisy of a TV news business that has long catered
to hateful rightists like Pat Buchanan, Jerry Falwell and Ann Coulter.
In TV land, vicious epithet-hurlers get to define and denounce outnumbered
or silenced progressives as the name-callers.
When I worked at MSNBC on Phil Donahue's primetime
show in 2002-2003, management often complained that Phil - who never
named-called and was one of the most courteous hosts in TV history
-- was "badgering" guests. His patriotism was questioned.
As the Iraq invasion neared, an internal NBC management memo described
Donahue as "a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war."
Why? Because he insisted on presenting guests who were "skeptical
of the Administration's motives".
With Donahue terminated on the eve of war, MSNBC brass
turned to hosts like Scarborough and talk radio bigot Michael Savage,
known for his declarations that developing countries like Venezuela
were "turd world nations"; that Latinos "breed like
rabbits"; and that women "should have been denied the
vote". In a TV industry bent on placating the far right, Donahue
was "a difficult public face for NBC". But Savage was
deemed an acceptable face.
Three weeks into the Iraq war, Scarborough was gleeful
at boycotts and cancellations aimed at antiwar "elitists"
like Janeane Garofalo, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon. As a guest
on Scarborough's show, Savage declared that "Hollywood idiots"
are "absolutely committing sedition and treason". Responded
Scarborough: "These leftist stooges for anti-American causes
are always given a free pass".
Let me be clear: Those of us who use facts instead
of rant; reason and argument instead of name-calling and personal
attacks; evidence instead of intimidation and accusations of disloyalty
-- we have the moral authority to tell Hugo Chavez that his comments
were out of line.
But the Limbaughs, Hannitys, Scarboroughs and O'Reillys
are in no position to point any fingers. Nor are the executives
at Disney, GE and News Corp who have made them the loudest voices
in American media.
Nor, for that matter, is Team Bush -- whose strategy
has been to demonize and intimidate critics and other members of
the "reality-based community".
Cohen is the director of FAIR, the New York-based
media watch organization - and co-author (with Norman Solomon) of
Wizards of Media Oz: Behind the Curtain of Mainstream News.
© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.