Follow-up to the silence from the ADL regarding Fox News and right-wing talk radio

The ADL agrees that various statements from Bill O'Reilly, Mark Levin and others are "repugnant" and "worthy of condemnation," but still refuses to condemn them.

Published October 5, 2007 11:46AM (EDT)

(updated below)

Following up on the post I wrote earlier this week regarding the now-routine use of "Nazi" and "Hitler" political insults by Fox News, Bill O'Reilly and various right-wing pundits generally -- as well as the conspicuous silence from certain Jewish groups which in the past have loudly condemned similar though far less significant episodes -- both the Anti-Defamation League's Abraham Foxman and the Simon Wiesenthal Center have responded to my article.

The ADL's response is here on its website. The Center's response was e-mailed to me, and I have posted it in its entirety here. I have also spoken with Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Associate Dean of the Center, regarding their statement. And while the ADL committed to arranging an interview for me regarding Foxman's response -- a response which I think raises more questions than it answers -- they have not yet done so. I still intend to pursue that interview and other aspects of this matter, but wanted to post a response to what has been provided thus far.

Most significantly, the first paragraph of Foxman's response says this:

Offensive or inappropriate references to the Holocaust must be loudly condemned at every opportunity. Indeed, many of the examples you cite are deeply offensive and equally repugnant, and certainly worthy of condemnation.

Oddly, Foxman does not identify which are the specific examples I cited that are so "offensive," "repugnant," and "worthy of condemnation." In light of the ADL's prolific practice of condemning statements in the past which it finds repugnant in this regard, one wonders why it has failed to do so.

Indeed, that failure was the central point raised by my post in the first place, and Foxman's letter -- acknowledging that the Right's increasing use of "Nazi" and "Hitler" insults against liberal blogs and anti-war groups is "worthy of condemnation" while still failing to condemn them -- only serves to bolster the original point. Does the ADL plan to issue condemnations of Bill O'Reilly, Mark Levin, Tammy Bruce and their comrades for "trivializing" Nazism and Hitler by repeatedly throwing around those terms to describe the likes of Media Matters, Daily Kos, MoveOn, and Jane Hamsher?

The bulk of Foxman's response is devoted to what he says was my "suggestion that the Anti-Defamation League has been selective in singling out liberals for condemnation, while remaining silent about the abuse of Holocaust imagery by those on the right." He cites past ADL condemnations of people like Glenn Beck, Pastor James Kennedy, James Dobson and Rick Santorum for what the ADL believed to be their reckless use of Nazi insults to make political points.

I think Foxman makes a fair point here as far as it goes. My intent was to focus on the ADL and other groups' relationship with Rupert Murdoch and Fox News -- as well as their political sympathy with those spouting a neoconservative view -- and what appears to be their resulting unwillingness to condemn Fox and neoconservative pundits specifically. Foxman does not really address that, though he persuasively makes the case that the ADL has been more willing to criticize those on the Right than my post may have suggested.

Still, all of this leaves unanswered the central question raised in that post. Bill O'Reilly's show is the highest-rated cable news show in the country, and for months, he and his special guests have been repeatedly -- sometimes on a nightly basis -- casually smearing mainstream liberal groups and blogs as Nazis and Hitler-like. By comparison, most of the other incidents the ADL has stridently condemned are insignificant in terms of both impact and reach. The ADL is now aware of these incidents, which are all documented in my post with links to transcripts or videos. Indeed, Foxman, in his response, said this:

Had you bothered to contact us before writing your piece we would have been glad for the opportunity to condemn the use of Holocaust imagery and those who routinely use Nazi references as a political attack tool, including the recent examples you cite. Many of these individuals you use as examples have been on our radar screen, and we would have been prepared to share with you our file on the subject, which is more than two-inches thick.

The only specific individuals I named in my post were Bill O'Reilly, Mark Levin, Tammy Bruce and Michelle Malkin. I'm glad to hear that "many" of those individuals "have been on [the ADL's] radar screen" and that they are "glad for the opportunity to condemn" them. They ought to do so. Why aren't they?

As for my discussion with Rabbi Cooper, it was not particularly fruitful. In response to every question, he gave long, nonresponsive answers claiming that the Center's primary role is not political. That may be true, but they have issued highly politicized statements in the past, most notably the righteous condemnation of MoveOn -- in the middle of the 2004 presidential campaign -- all because one anonymous person uploaded an ad to its website comparing Bush and Hitler.

Clearly, having Fox News make regular use of that imagery on a nightly basis -- or having Mark Levin spew it to his listeners, or have Jonah Goldberg decorate his allegedly forthcoming book with fun happy faces wearing a Hitler moustache in service of the rancid "argument" that "liberals from Woodrow Wilson to FDR to Hillary Clinton have advocated policies and principles remarkably similar to those of Hitler's National Socialism and Mussolini's Fascism" -- are infinitely more significant than the ad from an anonymous person on the Internet. Other than O'Reilly's use of the term "Nazi" for any group that criticizes him, what could possibly "trivialize" Hitler and Nazis more than this:

"Fascists," "Brownshirts," "jackbooted stormtroopers" -- such are the insults typically hurled at conservatives by their liberal opponents. . . . But who are the real fascists in our midst?

Replacing conveniently manufactured myths with surprising and enlightening research, Jonah Goldberg reminds us that the original fascists were really on the left, and that liberals from Woodrow Wilson to FDR to Hillary Clinton have advocated policies and principles remarkably similar to those of Hitler's National Socialism and Mussolini's Fascism. . . .

The modern heirs of this "friendly fascist" tradition include the New York Times, the Democratic Party, the Ivy League professoriate, and the liberals of Hollywood. The quintessential Liberal Fascist isn't an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.

These assertions may sound strange to modern ears, but that is because we have forgotten what fascism is. In this angry, funny, smart, contentious book, Jonah Goldberg turns our preconceptions inside out and shows us the true meaning of Liberal Fascism.

I asked Rabbi Cooper whether Rupert Murdoch or News Corp. were donors to the Center (a question I'd like to ask the ADL). Cooper stuttered around, eventually telling me that he was not sure if Murdoch was. He did say he would check and would let me know, and also committed to reviewing the material I cited to determine if the Center ought to condemn it. He said that while he does watch the Bill O'Reilly Show, he does not watch every night, but would start being more attentive.

Finally, both the ADL's and the Center's statements both imply or even state explicitly that I agree with them that the use of Nazi and Hitler comparisons are worthy of condemnation. I did not actually make that argument. I was merely taking the standard they have professed to believe in when issuing rather prominent condemnations in the past and asking why that standard has not been applied to the recent, extremely egregious, and rapidly increasing use of such comparisons from Fox News personalities and right-wing radio hosts and pundits. I'm still asking that question.

UPDATE: As sysprog notes in comments, the ADL continues to claim that it is a group devoted to "stop[ing] the defamation of the Jewish people," yet its agenda is clearly broader than that, at least as of late:

ADL Campaign Says "No" to Nuclear Iran

New York, NY, September 5, 2007 -- Over the next few weeks and months, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) will roll out a public awareness and advocacy campaign aimed at focusing attention on the gathering threat of a nuclear-armed Iran to Israel, the Middle East and the world.

With the slogan, "No Nuclear Iran," the campaign focuses on Iran's clear and present threat to Israel, America and the global community through high-profile eye-catching posters, advertisements in national and community newspapers, and other awareness initiatives using e-mail and the Internet to spread the word. . . .

"The message is simple and clear: a nuclear-armed Iran presents a direct threat to Israel, the Middle East, the United States and Europe, and it is imperative to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear capability," said Glen S. Lewy, ADL National Chair.

As sysprog says: "Criticizing their pro-Iran-war coalition partners, such as Murdoch/Fox, would be counter to the ADL's new primary focus." This is why I think this issue is so worth pursuing.

Innuendo and, increasingly, explicit claims of anti-semitism have become political weapons of the war-hungry Right in all sorts of foreign policy debates, most frequently now with regard to Iran. That is the real goal of constantly labelling liberal blogs and anti-war groups as Nazis, Hitler, Brownshirts, Gestapo troops, etc. Groups such as the ADL which claim to be devoted to opposing such tactics seem extremely reluctant -- to put it generously -- to condemn these tactics when used by those expressing unrelated political views that they seem to embrace (such as a hard-line against Iran). If they really believe in their ostensible principles, they ought to apply them equally.

By Glenn Greenwald

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