by Eric Boehlert
Conservative commentators were atwitter last week following news that Ann Coulter’s speech at the University of Ottawa was canceled in the face of protests. Of course, Coulter has the right to speak her mind on campuses. But in announcing the cancellation, her conservative Canadian sponsor, pundit Ezra Levant, put the blame on out-of-control liberals who had allegedly made it unsafe for Coulter to speak, breathlessly telling reporters that "the police and the security have advised that it would be physically dangerous for Ann Coulter to proceed with this event and for others to come in" and stressing the presence of an "unruly mob" outside.
Naturally, right-wing bloggers south of the Canadian border then went ballistic. Gateway Pundit claimed a menacing mob of 2,000, armed with "rocks and sticks," had surrounded the Ottawa campus building where Coulter was to speak. And yes, a fire alarm was even pulled.
But it turns none of those hysterical claims were true (except for the part about someone pulling a fire alarm without cause). The 1,000 protesters were peaceful, according to university officials (good luck finding those rocks and sticks). And no, the police did not cancel the event out of our concern for Coulter’s safety. They simply thought the event should have been held in a bigger venue to facilitate the large crowd. (Who invites Ann Coulter to campus and then books a lecture hall that, according to one estimate, holds just 400 people?)
Fact: Coulter and her promoters canceled the show on their own. There were no imminent signs of mob violence or threats of personal harm, just good old-fashioned, raucous, campus-style debate. But faced with a boisterous crowd, Coulter took her marbles and went home, while her conservative allies concocted tales of looming left-wing violence and feasted on the publicity.
Later, whining about her traumatic no-show in Ottawa, Coulter told a reporter, "I would like to know when this sort of violence, this sort of protest, has been inflicted upon a Muslim?" [Emphasis added.]
Oh, so now pulling a fire alarm qualifies as "violence"?
The hysterical hand-wringing was predictable. But the real stunner last week was watching the same conservatives who fretted over Coulter’s safety then turn around and excuse and rationalize actual right-wing violence and intimidation stateside in the wake of the historic health care vote. Speaking out of both sides of their mouths with astonishing ease, conservatives denounced liberals who protested Coulter’s appearance in Canada, and then played defense on behalf of marauding right-wing radicals who unleashed death threats, threw bricks through office windows, and hurled epithets at politicians. All in the name of saving America from President Obama’s brand of evil socialism.
Or so said the Tea Party team at Fox News, where there was little sense of remorse or shame — or even apparent concern — about the unprecedented bouts of violence and intimidation last week. (See list below.)
Instead, like Sarah Palin, Fox News simply reloaded and kept spraying the poisonous rhetoric all around. Worse, the "news" channel spent parts of last week either denying or rationalizing the uncorked madness. For instance, Glenn Beck suggested the incidents had been concocted. "It’s almost as if the left is trumping all of this up just for the politics," said Beck.
Fox News friend Rush Limbaugh agreed:
Our side doesn’t do this kind of stuff. It’s all made up — 95 percent of it’s made up and it’s being done to divert everybody’s attention."
And from Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government: "We doubt these threats are actually real."
Those who weren’t denying the acts of violence were busy whitewashing them. On Fox News, S.E. Cupp made fun of Democrats who she claimed sought sympathy after being on the receiving end of a "couple of angry voices mails." Cheered Cupp, "I’m glad people are angry."
Hmm, "angry" voice mails? Here’s an example of one of the actual hate messages left on a Democrat’s voice mail:
"Congressman Stupak, you baby-killing mother f***er… I hope you bleed out your a**, got cancer and die, you mother f***er," one man says in a message to Stupak.
By skimming over the unpleasant details, Fox News talkers did their best to trivialize the illegal, terrorist threats made against elected officials. In fact, they were glad Democrats received voice mails like that.
And yes, it’s been the rationalizing that’s been so disturbing to watch — the way the GOP Noise Machine fervently excused last week’s violent behavior and eagerly tried to shift the blame onto the victims of the intimidation, and then demanded to know what the big deal was.
I mean, who hasn’t had the line on a propane tank outside his house slashed by vandals? This stuff happens all the time, right? Didn’t scores of members of Congress, immediately following the vote in 2002 to authorize the invasion of Iraq, find their office windows shattered by flying bricks hurled under the cover of darkness by nasty anti-war libs? Didn’t they receive a steady stream of specific death threats and watch as relatives (and even their children) came under attack? Doesn’t this kind of harassment and intimidation come with the territory, and hasn’t it always been pushed out and legitimized by mainstream media outlets?
Um, not in America. But that may be changing as Fox News fuels the hate and does its best to provide cover and refuge for those supporting the intimidation campaign, as Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media rationalize the wave of political violence and do their best to shift the blame onto the targets — onto the victims — while always avoiding responsibility. (Did anyone on the left suggest Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) was to blame when a YouTube nut job posted a threat against his life?)
Note how so many embraced the frightening notion that because conservatives didn’t like health care reform, the violence was expected and nobody should have been surprised because Democrats, by passing the bill (i.e. desecrating the Constitution), pushed people too far. "So why are people angry?" asked Fox News’ Steve Doocy last week. "Maybe because they didn’t want this bill?"
Talk about the rise of tyranny and the minority-rule mob.
And that’s where the fear of the perpetual angry mob comes in, and perhaps why Fox News, rather than lamenting the ugly and cowardly eruptions, seems to be encouraging it, or at least rationalizing it. Perhaps Fox News wants that threat of mob intimidation on the table, and Fox News, the de facto Opposition Party, wants Democrats to be thinking about the political consequences of further upsetting that unhinged mob.
As the blogger known as Digby noted last week:
They know that serious violence is very likely. They are simply inoculating themselves against the charge that it was their inflammatory rhetoric that caused it. It will be the Democrats complaining about their inflammatory rhetoric that made the teabaggers snap. If they’d just stayed quiet and not made daddy mad, he wouldn’t have had to hit them.
And speaking of irresponsibility, who helped created the red-hot aura of right-wing hysteria over health care reform? Who has been driving the dangerous insurrectionist rhetoric? The right-wing media, of course. This was Beck, just days after the vote:
Get down on your knees and pray. Pray. It’s September 11th all over again, except that we didn’t have the collapsing buildings.
That’s right, the U.S. government (by moving to help insure millions more Americans) had unleashed a surprise terrorist attack against the defenseless civilian population. But no, Glenn Beck doesn’t incite people. Why would anybody think that?
And why would anybody think there was a connection between Fox News’ hate speech and the recent police blotter of violent and frightening political incidents:
- Rep. Tom Perriello’s (D-VA) brother’s address was erroneously posted online by a Tea Party blogger who invited activists to descend on the house. A gas line outside the brother’s house was cut.
- Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) was the target of threatening faxes and phone calls, including death threats. Some of the faxes included "racial epithets used in reference to President Obama," according to CBS News.
- A brick was thrown through the window of the Democratic Party office in Rochester, New York. The note attached read: "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice," roughly quoting 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater.
- Rep. Anthony Weiner’s office in Kew Gardens, New York, had to be evacuated after suspicious white powder was found in an envelope mailed to the office.
- A thrown brick smashed a window at Rep. Louise Slaughter’s district office in Niagara Falls, New York.
- Slaughter also received a message claiming that "snipers were being deployed to kill those members who voted yes for health care," according to Politico.
- A tossed brick demolished a window at the Sedgwick County Democratic Party headquarters in Wichita, Kansas.
- There were confirmed accounts of Tea Party protesters hurling anti-gay slurs at Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) on the eve of the health care vote.
- "Vandals also smashed the front door and a window at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ office in Tucson early Monday, hours after the Arizona Democrat voted for the health care reform package," reported the Kansas City Star.
Fox News’ response to the mayhem? "This happens all the time," shrugged paid contributor Stephen Hayes. His colleague Charles Krauthammer added, "I’m sure a lot of this is trumped up."
It’s a chilling prospect, but one that seems more and more plausible: What if Fox News actually wants mob violence?
Follow Eric Boehlert on Twitter.
Source: Media Matters for America.
Used with permission.