Friday, December 05, 2008

A man unhinged

Sitting on my bookshelf is a large collection of thoughtful and intelligent essays titled Politics: Observations and Arguments, 1966-2004. It's written by former Carter presidential speechwriter and New Yorker political commentator Hendrik Hertzberg. I read through the collection thinking I was reading mainstream liberal thought (because I was.)

Yet when Hertzberg saw fit to criticize - as I did - Bill O'Reilly and Newt Gingrich for fabricating a "gay and secular fascism" sweeping the country in the aftermath of an Obama victory he became a "far left zealot" - according to Bill O'Reilly. Here's the section that set off O'Reilly:

Like a polluted swamp, anti-gay bigotry is likely to get thicker and more toxic as it dries up. Viciousness meets viscousness. “Look,” Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, said the other day (on the air, to Bill O’Reilly), “I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us, is prepared to use violence. . . . I think that it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion. And I think if you believe in historic Christianity, you have to confront the fact.” For diversity’s sake, he added that “the historic version of Islam” and “the historic version of Judaism” are likewise menaced—which is natural, given that gay, secular, fascist values are “the opposite of what you’re taught in Sunday school.”

This sort of sludge may or may not prove to be of some slight utility in the 2012 Republican primaries, but it is, increasingly, history. A couple of days before the California vote, the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Wildermuth noticed a “No on Prop 8” sign on a front lawn. The lawn and the sign belonged to Steve Young, the football Hall of Famer and former 49er quarterback, and his wife, Barb. Steve Young is a graduate of Brigham Young University, which is named for his great-great-great-grandfather. The Youngs still belong to the Mormon Church. “We believe all families matter and we do not believe in discrimination,” Barb Young said. “Therefore, our family will vote against Prop 8.” It wasn’t enough this time. But the time is coming.
Wow! You can cut the "far left"-ishness of that with a knife!

Sarcasm aside, O'Reilly's problem with this is that he asserts it's taking Gingrich out of context because Hertzberg does not explain that Gingrich and O'Reilly were discussing an incident of gay activists running into a church during a service and proceeding to protest. Fair enough so far as that goes ... it would have been beneficial to add a sentence or two to provide the context.

But this is just an after the fact quibble that O'Reilly came up with to rationalize criticism, something that he is apparently pathologically unable to tolerate. Because Hertzberg is exactly right about Gingrich's statement being bigotry: an isolated incident of gay protesters interrupting a church service is hardly indicative that there is a "gay and secular fascism" trying to impose its will on America. What's more, I watched that exchange between O'Reilly and Gingrich and the impression I was sure that many of the viewers would get is that gay marriage was being imposed on America by a "gay and secular fascism!" Indeed, re-watching the footage in context that is the impression Gingrich gives - that the protesters are part of a gay/secular fascist movement trying to legalize gay marriage by intimidation. And of course, Hertzberg could have just as easily have chosen Bill O'Reilly's catergorization of gay marriage in Massachusetts as fascism - a claim which completely inverts the history of fascism* - as an example of irrational bigotry.

O'Reilly sent out his stalker producer to confront Hertzberg and Hertzberg's reaction is exactly the sort of response you'd expect: befuddlement. After getting over that initial response, Hertzberg cuts right to the heart of the matter, making the stalker producer look like a fool. O'Reilly, however, center of his own universe, seems to think the video demonstrates "all you need to know about the New Yorker magazine"(which had already been part of O'Reilly's enemies list for "defamation" (aka for linking to or relying on Media Matters' accurate and in context quoting of him.)

Hertzberg recounts the encounter here, and maintains that contrary to the assertion of O'Reilly, he was never invited on The O'Reilly Factor in the first place.

*The courts finding rights for minorities despite popular prejudice otherwise was not exactly the core of fascism, as practiced in, say, Nazi Germany.

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