The controversy over comparisons between George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler in two ads submitted to the anti-Bush ad contest run by the online activist group MoveOn.org says less about the state of left discourse than it does about the double standards at Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.
News Corp's Fox News Channel started the controversy on January 4, airing Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie's complaint about the Bush/Hitler comparison. "That's the kind of tactics we're seeing on the left today in support of these Democratic presidential candidates," Gillespie charged, calling such tactics "despicable."
The whole next day (1/5/04), this was a major story on Fox News Channel. John Gibson asked, "What about the hating Bush movement, the MoveOn.org and George Soros sponsoring these ads that compare Bush to Hitler?"--before being corrected that the ads were not sponsored by MoveOn (or Soros, a funder of the group), and were taken down in response to complaints.
Sean Hannity accused a guest: "You guys on the left are going so far over the cliff. You're making comparisons to the president and Adolf Hitler." Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway said on Hannity's show, "This is the hateful, vitriolic rhetoric that has become the Howard Dean Democratic Party." Bill O'Reilly cited the ads as evidence that "right now in America the Democratic party is being held captive by the far, far left."
It should be noted that however hyperbolic, comparisons to Hitler and fascism are not unknown in the American political debate. Rush Limbaugh has routinely called women's rights advocates "femi-Nazis," and references to "Hitlery Clinton" are a staple of right-wing talk radio. Republican power-broker Grover Norquist on NPR (10/2/03) compared inheritance taxes to the Holocaust.
Closer to home for Fox News, on the very same day that Gibson, Hannity and O'Reilly were talking about the Hitler/Bush comparison as evidence of the left's extremism, a column ran in the New York Post that described Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean as a follower of Josef Goebbels, referred to him as "Herr Howie," accused him of "looking for his Leni Riefenstahl," called his supporters "the Internet Gestapo" and compared them to "Hitler's brownshirts."
The New York Post, like Fox News Channel, is part of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch's conservative media empire. And this piece wasn't just put up on the Post's website as part of a contest--it was written by a right-wing commentator who frequently appears in the Post's pages, Ralph Peters, and selected for the op-ed page by the Post's own editors. So it's more than a little embarrassing that these blatant Nazi comparisons were being made in the Post while the paper's corporate sibling was denouncing such comparisons as a sign of derangement.
So what did the Murdoch organization do? Fox appears to have completely ignored the Post's own Nazi analogies--there's no reference to the column whatsoever in the cable channel's transcripts. And the New York Post seems to have sent the column down the memory hole--clicking on a link that used to go to Peters' story gives you a "page not found" message, and the text isn't found in the Nexis media database. (Ironically, in light of this Orwellian disappearing act, the column also compared Dean to Big Brother.)
In the interview that started the brouhaha, the RNC's Gillespie was asked if he would oppose similar attacks on Democrats. He replied: "If they stoop to the kind of despicable tactic like morphing a candidate into Adolf Hitler, yes, absolutely, I will tell you right here on the air. Have me back if any organization does that, I would repudiate it."
The same organization that interviewed him did that, through another of its branches, the very next day. So far, Fox News hasn't had him back on to condemn the New York Post.
ACTION: Please ask the New York Post whether it stands by the column it published describing Howard Dean as a Nazi, or if it owes Dean an apology. And ask Fox News Channel why they didn't criticize that column, even though its hosts repeatedly condemned such analogies that same day--when they involved George W. Bush.
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