In an important article for the American Spectator, Jeffrey Lord describes the effort of “So We Might See” — “a national inter-faith coalition for media justice,” according to its Web site — to force a Federal Communications Commission investigation of conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh.
The organization’s petition to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and the assistant secretary for communications and information, Larry E. Strickling, specifically accuses Limbaugh of causing the June 2006 beating of two Mexican men by four teenagers in Rocky Point, New York. “This incident occurred after radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh called Mexican immigrants, regardless of legal status, ‘a renegade, potential crime element that is unwilling to work.'”
So We Might See regards Limbaugh’s words as an example of “hate speech” that led to violence. But Limbaugh is not the only talk radio host considered dangerous. In his article, Lord notes that Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, and Lou Dobbs are also singled out in an e-mail from So We Might See staffer Rev. Ben Guess, a United Church of Christ minister.
Several religious groups are listed as “principal partners” in the interfaith coalition of So We Might See, including the National Council of Churches, Islamic Society of North America, Presbyterian News Service, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) — and the Office of Communications for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
That the USCCB is supporting an FCC investigation of Limbaugh and presumably the other talk radio hosts mentioned by Reverend Guess caught me by surprise. As I reported last week, the bishops took no position on the hate crimes legislation recently passed by Congress. That legislation — concerned specifically with violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered persons — could have a “chilling effect on religious speech,” according to Catholic League president Bill Donohue and other religious leaders.
One can only conclude that the USCCB is more concerned about the purported hate speech of people like Limbaugh and Beck than the hate-crime bill’s threat to religious liberty, which led 146 House members to vote against it.
Catholic blogger Diogenes, who broke the story, expressed his disappointment in USCCB support for the FCC investigation this way: “Lenin said that when the time comes to hang the reactionaries, the capitalists themselves will sell the rope. He never said the same sort of thing about the Catholic Church. He was born too soon.”
The investigation called for by So We Might Seewould take the form of an updating of the 1993 report on “The Role of Telecommunications in Hate Crimes,” issued by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The NTIA, an agency in the Commerce Department, advises the president on telecommunications policy.
The NTIA is headed by Lawrence E. Strickling, a Chicago attorney who, prior to his confirmation, was chairman of the FCC’s Enforcement Task Force and policy coordinator of Obama for America (now called Organizing for America).
Strickland will be asked to consider the “categories” of hate speech listed by So We Might See, which include “false facts,” “flawed argumentation,” and “dehumanizing metaphors.” But it was the category of “divisive language” that caught my attention.
According to So We Might See, “Divisive Language creates and/or encourages an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. Hard times often incite blaming ‘others’ as the source of trouble. Catholics, Jews, and African Americans have been routinely targets as scapegoats for those wishing to further their own agendas.”
This kind of nebulous criteria makes any sort of earnest criticism of a politician, a party, a public policy, or legislation subject to being tagged as hate speech. For example, was it hate speech when Keith Olbermann of MSNBC insisted on calling George W. Bush a “fascist”? Or when Rachel Maddow, also from MSNBC, called Limbaugh a “racist” for comments he never made? President Obama doesn’t seem to think so, since he invited both Olbermann and Maddow to a private, off-the-record briefing at the White House last Monday.
Hate speech that demonstrably leads directly to violence is repugnant and should be called to task by people of faith. But the efforts of So We Might See are so transparently partisan and political that the USCCB should have nothing to do with it. It’s an obvious attempt to undermine the influence of conservative talk radio, pure and simple.