Wednesday, April 02, 2003

The heart of the meme

Reader Sam Hunting was able to track down the author of the essay describing how to physically assault war protesters. It seems it was written by a self-described comedic writer who goes by the name of Rodney Lee (but who also appears to write under the name Rodney Lee Conover), and he published and copyrighted it shortly after Sept. 11 and during the runup to the war with Afghanistan -- against which, you may recall, protests were nearly nonexistent. Here's the original:

The Daily Hump [Oct. 6, 2001]

Note that the wording in the version now circulating on the Internet has now been changed to add "and those who support terror" to the first sentence, which underscores that this line of "reasoning" is being adapted for use against those who would protest the current war with Iraq as well. This in turn makes self-evident the speciousness of the whole enterprise.

Hunting also googled the essay and found it popping up on 86 different locations, and a lot of them were talk-radio related. Kynn Bartlett writes in to note that no less a radio talker than Laura Schlesinger -- No. 2 behind Limbaugh -- recited this essay shortly after 9/11. And Ted Barlow writes in to note that he heard it recently in Texas: "It wasn't a right-wing talk show or a country station, either, just a regular pop station in Houston."

Indeed, it's clear that this essay was the one being read by an MOR Seattle AM radio talk-show host when my original e-mailer brought it to my attention. This host was Gary Ryan of KIRO AM, who I unsuccessfully attempted to contact about the broadcast. However, Ryan's station manager did respond to my queries:
Thank you for your concern regarding a statement talk show host, Gary Ryan made during his Sunday, March 23rd afternoon program in regards to actions toward war protestors.

Gary's statement was intended to use sarcasm to form a comparison between the attacks of September 11th, and a theoretical action taken against a protestor. In both cases innocent people were, or would be, victims of violence. He was NOT, however, advocating the assault of a demonstrator.

Mr. Ryan could be accused of poor judgement in his choice of words. However, he was merely presenting a "what if" scenario to make the point why would striking a protester be any different from two planes hitting the Twin Towers. Also please be reminded that opinions expressed by our talk show hosts do not necessarily reflect the views of Newsradio 710.

Finally we have talked to Mr. Ryan about his comments, and believe there will be no further controversies along this line. Thank you for you concern about this matter. We hope you continue to listen to Newsradio 710 KIRO.

The lameness of this response should be self-evident. Another reader, Jake Sexton of Lying Media Bastards and Stray Bulletins, addresses it well:
That particular "punch the peaceniks" email has been circulating since just before the Afghan war in 2001 in various forms. I don't see it as a call to action to beat protesters but as an example of two bizarre conservative behaviors:

-- Violent conservative humor. For some reason, conservatives can tell the most vile, violent jokes around, sometimes aimed at specific individuals, but among themselves, they seem to know that they don't really mean "shoot protesters in the face" when they say "shoot protesters in the face." I think they see it more as a a burst of anger, like someone saying "I'm going to kill you" to someone who's made them really mad. Or, they mean every word of it and try to justify it as "just a joke" to liberals.

-- The "discredit the hypocrites" debate. Conservatives seem to think that if they can find a hypocrisy in any non-conservative argument, then they have won the debate. This sort of smirking "proof" is frequently spouted on the internet: "If you're so for peace, why didn't you speak out when Clinton attacked Serbia? If you're so concerned about civil rights, why aren't you concerned about the Iraqis' civil rights?" and so on.

The problem with the analogy, of course, is that it's an analogy. Waging war is in no way similar to punching someone in the nose. A single activist defending themselves with the small destructive power of their own fists is not the same as wildly bombing a large region of land in which your attacker (in the Iraq case, your potential attacker) might be located, alongside thousands of people who are not your attacker. As I've said in my blog, I would fully support a team of skilled soldiers going into Iraq to punch Saddam Hussein's regime into submission. But when you start using guns and bombs that will kill many, many people who are not "the bad guys," then I have serious problems.

However, I have to say that claims of "humorous intent" have often provided cover for rhetoric that is clearly designed to promote a mindset in which violence is an acceptable and appropriate response, as is silencing the opposition through physical intimidation and verbal threats. Both Rodney Lee and Gary Ryan may have thought he was merely using "sarcasm" or "satire" to point up some liberal hypocrisy, but the scenario they suggest is openly violent, and it would not surprise anyone if someone in his audience who was less stable chose to act on his suggestion. But no one in the audience can tell for certain. It is frankly just as likely that either of the two considers the idea of assaulting peace protesters an appealing idea and is merely using the cover of the "hypothetical" to foment such acts.

That is why any suggestion of resorting to violence as an appropriate response to one's fellow citizens is simply unacceptable for anyone who works in the mass media. This is a longstanding ethical standard that dates back to the lynching era, when such nods and winks indeed encouraged very real violence.

Of course, the base line of the perpetuation of this meme points up a fundamental falsehood in the ongoing campaign to defend the Iraq war: The notion that Iraq is somehow responsible for the events of Sept. 11. As I've mentioned previously, I was among the first journalists to explore the possibility that Iraq was involved in 9/11, and certainly remain open to the possibility. But anyone who has studied the facts of the matter knows full well that the connection is far from being proven; and the mere possibility of it is not in any way an adequate case for war.

Not that the jingoes care about such picky details. They have a different agenda in mind anyway.

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