Monday, December 06, 2004

The Right to Condemn

Belmont Club has "Tar and Feathers." It begins with Al Franken's glib toss-off, in his book, of David Horowitz as a "guest racist" on a Fox News talk show. The slur is never qualified or explained. The only reason Horowitz is even mentioned in Franken's book is to introduce his quote on the program, "We can protect ourselves from terrorist threats like Osama bin Laden. It would be nice if the CIA were able to assassinate him."

Horowitz has had to justify himself against the charge, in print:

As it happens I marched in my first civil rights protest in 1948 before Al Franken was born. For more than fifty years I have supported minorities and defended their civil rights in public word and deed, and raised millions of dollars to help inner city minorities whom racism has scarred. In fact there is no single cause – except America’s wars against totalitarian foes – to which I have devoted myself more consistently that than that of racial equality. Not a shred of evidence exists to the contrary. I have written more than a million words on racial and political matters -- all of them public record. There is not a single sentence, or phrase, or comment of mine that could be cited to justify Franken’s attack.

But this pained self-defense will likely not undo the damage done to the man's reputation by being labeled a racist in a best-selling nonfiction book.

The Belmont Club post goes on to join Horowitz in wondering at "the ease with which Al Franken could characterize anyone who offended him as being a 'racist'" and to ponder "whether liberals had an unlimited license to tar and feather."

In the process, the author links to the wonderful essay "The Media and Medievalism" by Robert D. Kaplan in "Policy Review." It's essential reading for anyone interested in the role of the media in modern America.

The essay builds on Elias Canetti's "Crowds and Power," his study of the rise of totalitarianism in Europe in the 1920s and '30s that was the basis of his 1998 Nobel prize. As Belmont Club summarizes it:

Canetti thought that the real tools of totalitarians were not simple brutality but "the right to question and to demand answers, the right to judge and condemn, and the right to pardon and show mercy." And it these precise powers that, with the fall of the Communist International, Kaplan believes the modern media has arrogated unto itself.