I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Cliff May's free speech lectures desperately needed here at home

National Review's Cliff May doled out a lecture yesterday about the meaning of free speech to an Islamic cleric in Azerbaijan. The cleric was objecting to a newspaper article which blamed Islam for Azerbaijan's economic troubles, and the cleric said: "I am for freedom of speech but not the freedom to insult." In reply, May sermonized: "You can't have one without the other."

Many of May's ideological comrades here in America are in need of that lecture as much as (at least) the Azerbaijan imam. On Fox News several days ago, Bill Hemmer hosted a segment protesting the "comparison" by The View's Joy Beher of Adolph Hitler and Donald Rumsfeld. One of the two Fox guests was right-wing radio talk show host Mike Gallagher, and this is what he said (h/t mbf):

You know it's a little bit ridiculous that we continue to watch these TV stars and movie stars who smear our leaders. I just wonder, Rob, if you'll think for a moment what our enemies think of seeing TV personalities comparing the outgoing Defense Secretary to Adolph Hitler.

I mean, you know, conservatives never get a pass. Strom Thurmond is wished a Happy Birthday by Trent Lott and the sky falls in on Trent Lott. But if Joy Behar goes on national TV and compares a good man like Rumsfeld to the evilest man in the world and there's no repercussions for Joy Behar.

You know, I think we should round up all of these folks. Round up Joy Behar, round up Matt Damon, who last night on MSNBC attacked George Bush and Dick Cheney. Round up Olbermann, take the whole bunch of them and put them in a detention camp until this war is over because they're a bunch of traitors.

Let us leave to the side for the moment the laughter-until- choking-inducing premise (highlighted by Newshounds) that Islamic terrorists are watching The View and are emboldened by Joy Behar's criticisms of Donald Rumsfeld.

Let us also leave to the side Gallagher's gushing praise, also expressed on Fox back in 2004, for a political ad that he said "brilliantly put together side by side Al Gore's raging, maniacal rant next to Adolf Hitler. It was actually pretty cleverly done."

And let us further leave to the side the all-consuming irony that Gallagher is bitterly complaining about the oh-so-inappropriate invocation of Nazism when criticizing right-wing Bush followers, only to then advocate that critics of the Government-- what he calls "our leaders" -- should be "rounded up" and placed into concentration camps (but only "until this war is over" -- which happens never). One could spend all day if one were so inclined ridiculing Mike Gallagher, but he isn't the issue here.

What is notable is how unnotable comments like these are. There is something quite striking about the fact that Fox News casually broadcasts to its viewers a call for Americans who critcize government leaders to be put into detention camps. And while the opposing guest, radio host Rob Thompson, somewhat lamely pointed out that criticism of "our leaders" isn't treasonous, there was no real challenge to Gallagher's truly disgusting remarks.

In fact, the grinning, empty-headed Bill Hemmer said nothing about Gallagher's outburst. He did, though, point out that he found the remarks by Beher to be "a bit unexcusable," and he ended the segment by inviting the guests back "next week," and then cheerfully added: "Happy Holidays, see you guys."

Perhaps my surprise is a bit naive (and I know there will be several people in comments eager to point out how naive), but shouldn't the expressed call to put domestic political opponents of the Bush administration into "detention camps" render someone beyond the pale? If that doesn't, what does? Is there anything that is considered too authoritarian for Fox News?

Gallagher isn't the first person to make this "argument" of course. Ben Shapiro, among others, on Townhall called for the prosecution and imprisonment of leading Democrats (Al Gore, Howard Dean, John Kerry) for their "sedition" (meaning their criticism of "our leaders").

And Michael Reagan -- a regular guest on Fox and sometimes guest host on Hannity & Colmes -- made one of the most reprehensible though under-appreciated statements from any relatively mainstream political figure when he called for the hanging -- the hanging -- of Howard Dean as a result of Dean's remarks about the war in Iraq:

Howard Dean should be arrested and hung for treason or put in a hole until the end of the Iraq war!

The danger here -- at least the short-term, imminent danger -- is not that anyone is going to be implementing the calls by Gallagher, Shapiro and Reagan to start putting Bush critics into concentration camps. The real issue is the same one raised by the post yesterday discussing Commentary's call for war on Iran in order to seize its oil assets, and it is the same point raised by the "debates" we have had over torture and indefinite detention.

By including advocates of these views in what is considered to be acceptable political discourse -- given forums by the likes of Fox News and treated with respect -- the scope of acceptable and mainstream viewpoints expands outwards towards its most authortarian fringes, until it squarely includes full-blown advocacy of tyranny. As but one example, by including pro-concentration-camp arguments from Gallagher and Reagan in our mainstream discourse, Fox renders the recent, repeated and truly radical calls from Newt Gingrich for a so-called "debate" on what the First Amendment "should protect" as moderate and mild.

The fact that one can turn on Fox News and regularly hear people who advocate the hanging or imprisonment of mainstream Bush critics for the opinions they express is a far more notable development than passive acceptance of it would suggest.


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