The Houston Chronicle editorial page wanted to be absolutely clear: References to Adolf Hitler or Nazis in American politics had no place in the "discourse of the nation," and the crude analogies were "beyond the pale." The practice was "absurd and dangerous."
The editorial page was disgusted by the rhetoric and firmly believed that dredging up the Nazi comparisons desensitized people to the pain and violence that actual Nazis unleashed in the 20th century.
The condemnation was fitting, given the fact that the country's most-listened-to talk radio host, Rush Limbaugh, last week unfurled shocking rhetoric in which he compared the Obama White House to a Nazi organization and even likened Obama to Hitler. ("Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate.") The outlandish attacks seemed to be a case of Limbaugh playing catch-up to Fox News' Glenn Beck (Limbaugh = Beck Lite?), who had been pounding the noxious Nazi angle for weeks.
Of course it's depressing to watch Limbaugh drive politics into the gutter, but at least watchdogs at big-city dailies like the Houston Chronicle are calling out the really reprehensible stuff, right?
Because here's the catch: That Chronicle editorial I mentioned above wasn't in response to Limbaugh's latest misguided hate maneuver. The scathing editorial was published on January 7, 2004, and came in response to news that two videos submitted to a MoveOn.org advertisement contest had included Hitler imagery in their 30-second attacks on President Bush. (They were just two of the 1,500 clips submitted.) MoveOn never endorsed the efforts or promoted them; the clips simply appeared on MoveOn's crowded contest website. But when news spread about their mere existence, a controversy erupted, and the liberal netroots group quickly pulled the ads, apologized for their inclusion, and denounced the use of Nazi imagery.
Despite that swift action, the Hitler-MoveOn story, fueled by Fox News (see Glenn Greenwald), became a very big deal and gobbled up days' worth of news coverage, coverage that often stressed how unrestrained and irresponsible the liberal blogosphere was (Hitler?!), to the point where the Chronicle weighed in with a stand-alone editorial on the topic.
But fast-forward to today. As Limbaugh envelops himself in Nazi rhetoric, for some reason, the Houston Chronicle's editorial page, along with so many other corporate news outlets, remains silent about the offensive Hitler comparisons. Despite the fact that Limbaugh has not apologized for his comments -- unlike MoveOn in 2004 -- and is continuing to compare the Obama White House and the Democratic Party with Nazis, many in the media don't consider it newsworthy and haven't condemned it. And more important, journalists don't show any signs of believing that the episode tells us anything about the radically unhinged nature of the right-wing media in this country today. That story's just a non-starter. Period.
It's just Rush being Rush, right?
Over the weekend, some welcome media voices did rise up to denounce Limbaugh's rhetoric in no uncertain terms. (David Brooks: "What he's saying is insane.") But why did it take so long, and why isn't everyone making that blindingly obvious point? And why wasn't it considered big news that the de facto leader of the Republican Party went there (i.e. Nazi-ville)? He went to a place that previously was considered unconscionable and unpardonable by the press. Just ask MoveOn; it still has the scars to prove it.
Why isn't Limbaugh uniformly condemned for his words?
After all, if The New York Times is going to prop up Limbaugh as an all-powerful and deeply important figure in American politics, the way the newspaper did last summer with its worshipful Sunday magazine cover story, shouldn't it dutifully chronicle his radical and outrageous rhetoric, too?
Yet the Times in recent days has managed just a sentence or two about Limbaugh's embrace of Nazi analogies. Of course, the Times is not alone in completely downplaying the story. As of today, The Washington Post has not reported one word about Limbaugh's shocking comments. Then again, The Washington Post also gave Beck a pass when he announced that the president of the United States had a "deep-seated hatred of white people" and was a flat-out "racist." At the Post, which obsesses over the intersection of the media and politics, the jaw-dropping attack by Fox News' superstar host wasn't considered newsworthy.
That's correct: Two of the most popular and powerful conservative voices in America have recently called out Obama as a Nazi and a racist. But, sorry, at The Washington Post, that's just not news. Nothing to see here, people. Just keeping moving along.
If I could play assignment editor for a moment here: The political story of the year continues to be the unhinged radical-right response to Obama's inauguration and the naked attempt to dehumanize and delegitimize him through a nonstop smear campaign sponsored by the GOP Noise Machine. The misguided movement breaks all kinds of taboos in American politics, as well as in the press, and is redefining our political culture -- for the worse. Yet the press continues to play dumb.
So spooked are journalists by decades' worth of "liberal media bias" attacks that they refuse to connect the glaringly obvious dots on display. They refuse to drill down into the rancid undercurrent that's behind the Obama-is-a-Nazi dementia, the town hall mini-mobs that are wreaking havoc across the country, and the bizarre birther conspiracy theory. The three right-wing phenomena are all related, and they all revolve around a runaway hatred of Obama (as well as the federal government), and they're all being fueled by the Noise Machine, especially Fox News and Limbaugh, both of which no longer recognize common decency, let alone journalistic standards.
Yet instead of putting Limbaugh on the receiving end of well-deserved scrutiny and scorn, rather than turning his comments into a political firestorm, the press plays dumb and actually goes out of its way to legitimize the worst offenders of the GOP's hate brigade.
And so that's why we saw ABC invite mini-mob cheerleader Michelle Malkin onto its Sunday morning talk show and sit her across from Pulitzer Prize-winning writers. Because in the eyes of elites at ABC, Malkin, whose job is basically to blog any semi-coherent smear campaign she can cook up, and who told Fox News viewers last week that health care reform "puts a discount on the lives of elderly people," deserves a place at the mainstream table. She's a very serious and important person.
And instead of examining the obviously dangerous implications of somebody like Michael Savage attracting a large and loyal radio audience as he belches out his hatred for women, liberals, gays, Arabs and other minorities, the prestigious New Yorker recently published something of a Savage valentine, portraying him as "weird" and "fun" and just completely misunderstood by liberals who worry too much about Savage's "addictive," jazz-inspired riffs.
Of course, just days after the profile appeared on newsstands, Savage hosted an interview with a delusional leader of the birther movement, and together they hatched a plan to unleash even more mini-mobs to ransack town hall forums and drive the birther message, all in hopes of forcing the president out of office. (Was that the "fun" The New Yorker had in mind when it toasted Savage in its pages?)
Because the corporate press has ignored the simmering hate wave on the right and let pass almost without comment the kind of outbursts that, if ever were to appear on liberal websites, would be denounced around the clock by media elites, it's not surprising that Limbaugh pretty much gets a pass for his Nazi crusade. (Do I even have to mention that the conservative press has been almost comically hypocritical about the Nazi issue? In other words, Bush + Hitler = bad. Obama + Hitler = crickets.)
Want some concrete proof that the press has treated this media Nazi story differently than the Hitler-MoveOn kerfuffle in 2004? Consider the fact that The Indianapolis Star published letters to the editor about the Hitler-MoveOn story on January 7, 9, 10, 11, and 19 back in 2004. To date, however, not a single word has been published on that same Star page about Limbaugh's creeping Nazi obsession.
Here's a list of big-city newspapers that covered the story in January of 2004, according to Nexis (and the number of separate articles, columns, or letters that referenced the story):
- Indianapolis Star (5)
- The New York Sun (5)
- The Washington Times (5)
- The Kansas City Star (3)
- The New York Times (3)
- News & Record of Greensboro, North Carolina (3)
- San Antonio Express-News (3)
- Minneapolis Star Tribune (3)
- The Boston Globe (2)
- New York Daily News (2)
- Houston Chronicle (2)
- New York Post (2)
- The Arizona Republic (1)
- Boston Herald (1)
- The Denver Post (1)
- Hartford Courant (1)
- Los Angeles Times (1)
- The Modesto Bee (1)
- San Francisco Chronicle (1)
- The Seattle Times (1)
- St. Petersburg Times (1)
- Rocky Mountain News (1)
- Cleveland Plain Dealer (1)
- Washington Post (1)
- Newsday (1)
- Richmond Times Dispatch (1)
- Atlantic Journal-Constitution (1)
- Orange County Register (1 )
Total big-city newspaper mentions: 54.
To date, here's the complete list of big-city newspapers that have covered the Limbaugh-Nazi story:
- The Boston Globe (1)
- The New York Times (1)
- New York Daily News (1)
- Denver Post (1)
- Las Vegas Review-Journal (1)
- Boston Herald (1)
Total big-city newspaper mentions: 6.
Television? According to a transcript search of Nexis, in January 2005, CNN gave the Hitler-MoveOn story three times more attention than it has to the current Limbaugh-Nazi controversy.
Looking back, maybe MoveOn should have just done what Limbaugh did and refused to apologize, instead embracing the Nazi nonsense. Because I'm sure if the liberal group had done that, I'm sure if MoveOn had pounded the Bush-is-a-Nazi angle for days and days, then journalists would have turned away quickly, just as so many have in response to Limbaugh's hateful Nazi rhetoric. Right?