Object to a War Criminal at Your Graduation? You Must Be a ‘Bigot’

Timothy Egan

Timothy Egan

New York Times columnist Timothy Egan (5/16/14) rages against the “forces of intolerance,” “bigots,”  “censors” and “lefty thought police”–that is, against college students who dare to have moral objections to the speakers their administrations chose to garnish their graduations with.

His lead example is Condoleezza Rice, who withdrew as Rutgers University’s commencement speaker after some students objected. See if you can follow Egan’s moral logic:

The foreign policy that Rice guided for George W. Bush–two wars on the credit card, making torture a word associated with the United States–was clearly a debacle. Contemporary assessments were not kind, and history will be brutal.

But if every speaker has to pass a test for benign mediocrity and politically correct sensitivity, commencement stages will be home to nothing but milquetoasts. You want torture? Try listening to the Stanford speech of 2009, when Justice Anthony M. Kennedy gave an interminable address on the intricacies of international law, under a broiling sun, with almost no mention of the graduates.

As Egan acknowledges, this is a person who helped start wars–wars that killed hundreds of thousands of human beings. She authorized torture, which is an international crime. But apparently most public figures are guilty of similar atrocities, because excluding people like her would leave you only with “benign mediocrity” and “nothing but milquetoasts.”

Immediately after citing the actual torture that Rice was actually responsible for, Egan makes a joke about a boring speech being the real “torture.” This in service to his no-kidding argument that a boring speech is worse than a criminal speaker. It’s really kind of sociopathic.

It needs to be pointed out that a graduation is not the PBS NewsHour; it’s a celebration of students’ accomplishments. If they feel that honoring a war criminal is an inappropriate way to mark their milestone, they have every right to say so.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.