If Fox News is going to continue to traffic in hateful rhetoric, then folks at Fox News, as well as their apologists in the GOP Noise Machine, are going to have to come up with better talking points to spin away the atmosphere of vigilantism fomented by their words and actions.
They need a better line of defense because the one they trotted out in the wake of the right-wing assassination of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was wholly unconvincing.
It was just as feeble as the defense Fox News' Glenn Beck tried to employ in May to distance himself from the accused right-wing cop killer in Pittsburgh who seemed to mimic Beck's language about how President Obama was coming to take away everyone's guns.
The Fox News crew is going to need better talking points because I fear the violence -- the bouts of right-wing domestic terrorism -- are likely to continue. As long as Fox News and the Noise Machine refuse to back off the incendiary language that they're actively mainstreaming, the political violence, visible just months into Obama's historic first term, may have only begun.
Note that during a jailhouse interview, Tiller's suspected killer claimed that similar assassination plots against abortion providers are already being planned.
And please note what you did not hear from virtually anyone on the far right who addressed the Tiller story last week. Yes, they tried furiously to distance Bill O'Reilly from the controversy or suggest there was nothing problematic with the "baby killer" rhetoric he used. But what you did not hear was anyone condemn, or even take issue with, O'Reilly's on-air crusade.
Why the silence? Because militia-style vigilante rhetoric has become a cornerstone of the conservative media movement in America, and it's now proudly championed by Fox News on a nearly hourly basis.
The fact is, I couldn't find a single prominent voice within the GOP Noise Machine who even hinted that O'Reilly's relentless attacks on Tiller were in any way off the mark or, in light of the vigilante Kansas church killing, needed to be reconsidered, that they should have been dialed down. And that's why the ugliness has only begun.
The unconvincing right-wing defense in the wake of the Tiller assassination last week was twofold, with the second layer even thinner than the first. The first was that when conservatives were hounding and demonizing Tiller for years, they were merely debating the issue of abortion. And surely nobody in America opposes a healthy debate, right? Nobody opposes "sharp political disagreement," as Michelle Malkin sugarcoated the Tiller attack, right?
Second, Noise Machine leaders claimed that liberal commentators do exactly what O'Reilly and Beck have been accused of: using violent political hate language that puts people's lives in danger. That claim has been made over and over, yet conservatives can't actually produce any proof -- can't find any hateful liberal quotes -- to buttress the claim.
That's because both talking points are complete fabrications.
First, the idea that O'Reilly and company simply debated Tiller's work is laughable. O'Reilly's never been interested in any kind of back-and-forth about the abortion issue. He just rants and demonizes the other side. And in the case of Tiller, O'Reilly portrayed him as a lawless executioner. As Mary Alice Carr, vice president of communications for NARAL Pro-Choice New York, wrote in a recent op-ed for The Washington Post, "O'Reilly knew that people wanted Tiller dead, and he knew full well that many of those people were avid viewers of his show. Still, he fanned the flames."
And besides, if O'Reilly had merely been debating abortion -- if he had said nothing about Tiller that was regrettable or out of line -- why did O'Reilly at least twice last week falsely claim that he'd never called the doctor a "baby killer"?
Still, according to Brent Bozell's NewsBusters, O'Reilly had simply "spoke[n] critically of Tiller's abortionist practices" and merely "used harsh words to describe Tiller."
Decide for yourself. Since FNC defenders often refuse to reprint O'Reilly's quotes, here's an unvarnished look at what he said about Tiller; here's what he said before an anti-abortion zealot assassinated Tiller and then claimed his actions were justified:
- "In the state of Kansas, there is a doctor, George Tiller, who will execute babies for $5,000."
- "For $5,000, 'Tiller the Baby Killer' -- as some call him -- will perform a late-term abortion for just about any reason."
- "Tiller has killed thousands, thousands of late-term fetuses without explanation."
- "No question, Dr. Tiller has blood on his hands."
- " 'Tiller the Baby Killer' out in Kansas, acquitted, acquitted today of murdering babies."
- "This guy will kill your baby for $5,000, any reason. Any reason."
- "If we allow Dr. George Tiller and his acolytes to continue, we can no longer pass judgment on any behavior by anybody."
- "If we allow this, America will no longer be a noble nation."
As for the Noise Machine's fallback position, it's that liberal commentators do exactly what O'Reilly and Beck have been accused of: trafficking in hateful rhetoric that endangers innocent people.
Making the charge at NewsBusters, Noel Sheppard claimed:
[A]s [Keith] Olbermann and his ilk on MSNBC and throughout the liberal blogosphere routinely referred to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as murderers, would they have been responsible if someone had assassinated either of these former White House members?
Sheppard was sure that Olbermann had called Bush and Cheney murderers. He was sure Olbermann's references to the POTUS and VP were "equally provocative" as O'Reilly's references to Tiller.
Except, of course, Sheppard failed to produce a single Olbermann quote that even comes close to the seething, unhinged hate rants that O'Reilly unfurled for years against Tiller. Meaning, there is no comparison between what O'Reilly said about Tiller and what Olbermann has said about Bush and Cheney. Yet this entire right-wing defense hinges on the idea that the language was identical. That there's a moral equivalence.
Desperate to move the spotlight away from O'Reilly's irresponsible actions, conservatives last week tried to claim that liberal pundits might be responsible for the killing of a military recruiter in Arkansas who was gunned down by a Muslim convert trying to send a political message. Why the liberal pundits? Because they had created a dangerous anti-military atmosphere.
Beck made that very claim on his radio show [emphasis added]:
BECK: Well, let me ask you this. I had to really search the news long and hard to find out about the two recruiters -- the two soldiers that had been killed by the Muslim convert, that were gunned down in Arkansas. I had to really look hard for that. Is anybody asking is Keith Olbermann responsible for the death of those two soldiers? Keith Olbermann has railed against recruiters. Keith Olbermann has railed against the baby killers that our U.S. soldiers are. He's railed against this war. MSNBC was right all over the story about how our troops are torturing and killing innocents. Has anybody asked if he's responsible?
Slight problem. Neither Beck nor anyone else on the right last week could find any hateful, violent anti-recruiter attacks launched by liberal media personalities. (Let alone baby-killing quotes.) Why can't they find the rhetoric? Because nobody on the left with any sort of national platform has targeted military recruiters in recent years. If they had, Malkin would have included the damning quotes in her column. (Either that, or she needs to hire a new researcher.)
Have there been, over the years, occasional efforts on the left to ban military recruiters from campuses and other environments? There certainly have. Can conservatives point to any kind of wholesale hate rhetoric or vigilante-style calls to action by mainstream liberal pundits and commentators designed to dehumanize and demonize military recruiters? Of course they cannot. (And sorry, Code Pink demonstrations don't qualify as mainstream media commentators.) Because if conservatives could have found those kinds of irresponsible attacks, they would have thrown them back in everyone's faces last week.
But apparently, they don't exist.
As far as I know, there are no gotcha, hateful, get-the-recruiter quotes to hang around the necks of Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow or anyone else on the left for the simple reason that high-profile media liberals haven't led dangerous crusades to target military recruiters the way O'Reilly led a dangerous crusade against Tiller. And the way Beck has against Obama.
As a rule, media liberals don't traffic in irresponsible, militia-style rhetoric. But agitators like O'Reilly and Beck do, and now conservatives can't make that fact go away.
That's why the Fox News crew and its eager apologists are going to have to come up with a better line of defense. Because as long as Fox News peddles its incendiary vigilante rhetoric, the right-wing violence in America will continue, and Fox News is going to have to answer for it.