"Nazis" and "Hitler" -- the Right's casual, trivializing political insults

Jewish groups which in the past righteously protested the exploitative use of the terms "Nazi" and "Hitler" now sit by silently as Fox News routinely spews those terms against political opponents.

Published October 1, 2007 12:45PM (EDT)

(updated below - Update II)

One of the rules of political discourse that we had until quite recently -- enforced most vigorously by groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and The Simon Wiesenthal Center, among others -- was that nobody was allowed to invoke Hitler and Nazis as a political insult. To do so, we heard constantly, was to trivialize Nazisim and the Holocaust and exploit that imagery for cheap political gain.

Several years ago, when MoveOn.org sponsored a contest for producing the best anti-Bush ad of 2004, it received well over 1,000 ads -- one of which compared Bush to Hitler. Upon learning of the ad's content, MoveOn immediately removed the ad, but that did not stem the tidal waves of outraged protests. The ADL's Executive Director, Abraham Foxman, roared that the ad was "shocking," "vile" and "outrageous." RNC Chair Ed Gillespie denounced it as "political hate speech" and demanded that all Democratic presidential candidates condemn it. The Simon Wiesenthal Center said comparing political opponents to Hitler is "shameful and beyond the pale and has no place in the legitimate discourse of American politics."

Similar outrage ensued when Sen. Dick Durbin invoked the behavior of the Nazis in a speech condemning Guantanamo. The very idea of even mentioning Americans and Nazis in the same breath was Despicable, said countless right-wing pundits such as Jonah Goldberg. After all, "The Nazis performed medical experiments on children and gassed whole families" and Hitler thus possesses a "singular villainy." Goldberg protested:

In the circles frequented by the likes of Durbin -- where Howard Dean is a statesman and Michael Moore deserves the Nobel Prize -- evil must automatically be associated with "Nazi."

Now, however, "Nazi" and "Hitler" comparisons have become, by far, the most common political insult on the Right, and these same Jewish advocacy groups are defeaningly silent. It is not merely that every new country on which the Right's war-crazed faction wants to wage war is "Nazi Germany" and every new leader -- or even every political functionary -- that does not submit completely to America's will is "Hitler." That is true, and it provokes no protests. But the casual, indiscriminate use of "Hitler" and "Nazism" as political exploitation is much more pervasive even than that.

Just in the past few months alone, there is virtually no prominent anti-war or liberal group that has not been branded as Hitler and Nazis by the most influential factions on the Right. If one's goal were to trivialize Hitler and Nazism and the Holocaust, one would do exactly what the Right is doing -- brand every political opponent as Hitler and Nazis on a virtually daily basis. Yet the groups that have anointed themselves proprietors of those terms, and which have in the past expressed such righteous outrage when those terms were used against the Right, sit by meekly and silently.

During his failed crusade to convince Democratic candidates to boycott Yearly Kos, Bill O'Reilly spent weeks, on a virtually nightly basis, labelling Daily Kos as Nazis. On Fox News, O'Reilly repeatedly said things like this: "There's no difference between the KKK and the Nazis, who have websites, than the Daily Kos." And: "The [Daily Kos] website sells hate, as does the KKK and the Nazis. The comparison is valid."

On his talk radio show last night, Mark Levin labelled MoveOn and Media Matters as "brownshirts." Michelle Malkin this morning excitedly touted Levin's attack, cheering the "no-holds-barred Mark Levin" for labelling both groups as the "brownshirts of the Clinton crime family."

On September 17, Bill O'Reilly had Tammy Bruce and Kirsten Powers on to wallow in outrage over a blog post written by Jane Hamsher in which she criticized Elizabeth Edwards for reciting right-wing talking points against MoveOn.org. Hamsher's picture was displayed while she and FDL were branded by O'Reilly as "fascists" and "Nazis." The largest right-wing blogs cheered on this smear.

On September 26, Tammy Bruce went on Fox and, discussing Media Matters and MoveOn, said that "a Gestapo has emerged in America," and "you have a media Gestapo in Media Matters and a political Gestapo in MoveOn.org." She used the word "Gestapo" continuously to refer to these groups.

So apparently, the whole business about exterminating millions of people and committing genocide and invading numerous countries is no longer necessary to be a "Nazi," to be "Hitler," to become the "Gestapo." Those things are all now relegated to incidental after thoughts.

Now, one need merely express liberal views and criticize those on the Right and one is now indistinguishable from German Nazis. Hence, Markos Moulitsas and Media Matters and Jane Hamsher and MoveOn.org -- despite not actually advocating, let alone engaging in, genocide, the mass slaughter of Jews, and aggressive, unprovoked wars -- are all Adolf Hitlers, all Nazi Gestapo agents, and are all continuously branded as such by Fox News and right-wing radio.

Can one even imagine a more effective way to completely belittle and trivialize those terms than the way in which Fox News is so casually and cheaply throwing around those terms? And yet the organizations which have, in the past, anointed themselves arbiters of when those terms could be used -- and who have righteously attacked far less significant and incautious exploitation of "Nazism" insults when used against the Right -- say nothing about the reckless, indiscriminate use of those terms on Fox and in similar venues.

To the contrary, the Simon Wisenthal Center has bestowed its highest honor, the Humanitarian Laureate, on Fox's owner, Rupert Murdoch. And Murdoch is a frequent guest at ADL events and has served on various ADL committees. Ironically, the ADL previously condemned Ted Turner for comparing Murdoch to Hitler, with Foxman issuing a formal condemnation statement:

The Anti-Defamation League called Ted Turner's reported remarks comparing Rupert Murdoch to Hitler "quite disturbing."

"As many and as serious as your business or personal differences with Mr. Murdoch," Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, wrote to the CNN Chairman, "comparing him to Hitler trivializes a profound historical tragedy. Hitler's deeds resulted in the deaths of millions, and a war which gripped the world for six years. The comparison is an insult to the memory of the millions of victims of Nazism." Today's New York Post reported that Mr. Turner referred to News Corporation Chairman Murdoch as being "like the late Fuhrer."

In 1995, ADL called a similarly offensive remark by Mr. Turner to his attention when the CNN Chairman stated his inability to buy a network made him feel like "those Jewish people in Germany in 1942."

"Once again," Mr. Foxman wrote, "we urge that such inapt analogies to the Holocaust be avoided."

It probably is true that the indiscriminate use of history's most despicable criminals as a cheap political insult trivializes those crimes. But so, too, does the blatantly inconsistent and politically motivated expressions of outrage by groups which claim some sort of proprietary interest in Nazism and the Holocaust -- enforcing speech rules when violated by political opponents but tacitly overlooking far more egregious ones committed by political allies. Just compare their outrage machines in action over an ad submitted anonymously to MoveOn's site to the meek and total silence in the face of Fox News' daily Nazi and Hitler insults.

If Jane Hamsher and MoveOn.org are routinely held up on Fox News as "Nazis," and Media Matters and Markos Moulitsas continuously branded as "Hitler" and "the new Gestapo," then isn't the only logical conclusion that these terms signify nothing significant, that they are merely commonplace insults? And isn't that the outcome which these groups -- sitting silently by -- are supposedly dedicated to preventing? Shouldn't the ADL, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and like-minded groups be vigorously condemning Fox News and the likes of Bill O'Reilly, Tammy Bruce and Mark Levin for this reckless and "trivializing" behavior?

UPDATE: I sent the following e-mail to the ADL, and will post a response if I receive one. The Simon Wisenethal Center does not seem to have a contact e-mail for media requests, so I intend to call them with the same inquiries:

I've written a piece today in Salon (which can be found here) on the virtually daily use of "Nazis" and "Hitler" as a political insult by Fox News and right-wing talk radio, particularly directed against liberal and anti-war groups such as Daily Kos, Media Matters and MoveOn.org.

In the piece, I examine the ADL's silence in the face of this constant, trivializing use of these terms on Fox News, and contrast that silence to past denunciations from the ADL and Abraham Foxman when such terms have been used (in much less significant contexts) by the Left.

I would like to include a reaction from the ADL and Mr. Foxman in this story. I also intend to write a follow-up article and would like to interview Mr. Foxman and include the ADL's formal position there. Does the ADL plan to denounce and condemn the casual use of these terms as a political insult from the likes of Bill O'Reilly, Mark Levin and Fox? Just a fraction of them are documented in my story.

If I could interview someone at the ADL, or if you would like to send a written response, please let me know and I will include it.

Thank you -

Glenn Greenwald

One can encourage the ADL to apply their condemnation practices equally to Fox News here.

UPDATE II: I have calls in to the Media Offices of both the ADL and the Simon Wiesenthal Center attempting to interview someone regarding their position on these issues and to determine if they intend to speak out against this increasingly common exploitation of Nazi and Hitler insults for routine political gain. Assuming just a modicum of consistency and non-partisan devotion to their principles, it is difficult to see how they could remain silent in the face of this onslaught of Nazi name-calling.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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