Guest editorial by Ernest A. Canning
To what extent has xenophobia greased the wheels of the right-wing smear machine?
For those who follow The BRAD BLOG, the pattern is all too recognizable.
A venal hard-right, operating through a pathological, race-baiting con-artist, like Andrew Breitbart, targets, for one of its deceptive smear campaigns, a group, like ACORN, or an individual, like Van Jones or Shirley Sherrod.
The smear is amplified by the propagandists at Fox "News." It reverberates throughout the right-wing echo chamber (which has usurped the majority of our public airwaves to bolster their agenda). The smear is then repeated by pliant mainstream corporate media, which will, at best, offer up a belated, chiseling, inaccurate "correction" --- too little and too late to undo the damage wrought by a Democratic "opposition" which timidly seeks to distance itself from the smeared as they scurry to hand the hard-right what it seeks (e.g., a bill stripping ACORN or NPR of public funds, or the forced resignation of the targeted individual).
There is no doubt but that some of the corporate media complicity derives from common financial interests. As Bill Moyers observed in Moyers on America, "media giants...exalt commercial values at the expense of democratic value...squeezing out the journalism that tries to get as close as possible to the verifiable truth."
But there is another issue, magnified by two recent events: (1) The matter-of-fact acceptance of the prompt resignation of two NPR officials over a secretly taped and deceptively-edited video hit piece in which two of convicted federal criminal and Republican con-man James O'Keefe's flunkies posed as members of a Muslim organization seeking to help fund NPR, and (2) The deafening corporate media silence over an outrageously racist remark by a right-wing Kansas state representative who compared "illegal immigrants" to "feral pigs"...
Revisiting The Lucifer Effect
In The Lucifer Effect, Professor Phillip Zimbardo defined dehumanization as a means "by which certain other people or collectives of them are depicted as less than human." Zimbardo's academic analysis was covered at length in my article "Hate Speech and the Process of Dehumanization" where poignant examples were provided both with respect to Nazi Germany and, by way of Leon Litwack's photographic display and account of lynching in the American Jim Crow South in Without Sanctuary.
Just as Zimbardo traced the sadism of the SS to the Nazi media campaign to dehumanize the Jewish population, so also Litwack traced lynching, which took the lives of more than 4,700 African Americans between 1882 and 1968, to the injection of racism into popular culture by media. Writes Litwack:
The extent of the dehumanization is reflected in a remark by former Georgia governor William J. Northen, quoted by Litwack:
Governor Northen's observation should be kept in mind when we cover how a Republican Kansas state legislator thinks we should now address the issue of "illegal immigration."
The process of dehumanization was revisited in a follow-up article I posted to the first hate-speech and dehumanization article, which, relying upon the substantial body of work by Professor Jack Shaheen in Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, demonstrated the extent to which 21st Century American culture is imbued by anti-Arab racism.
O'Keefe's NPR sting: McCarthy-like guilt by association
Substantively, there was nothing on O'Keefe's heavily and dishonestly edited version of the NPR videotape which should have warranted so much as criticism of NPR's former senior vice president for development, Ron Schiller, let alone his resignation.
Meeting with O'Keefe's stooges who claimed to be a foundation seeking a voice on NPR for Muslims, Schiller appeared in the "edited" O'Keefe video as simply suggesting that Muslims, like women, should have a voice in our schools and on our public airwaves. He went on to describe the Tea Party as "fanatically involved in people's personal lives and very fundamental Christian..."
In addition to describing the Tea Party as "anti-intellectual," Ron Schiller said:
[Ed Note: As it turns out, Schiller had simply paraphrased opinions he said were from high-level Republicans who had become embarrassed by the extreme right of the Republican party. O'Keefe deceptively edited the video to remove that important point, among many others.]
The "why" of the O'Keefe "sting" is rather obvious.
The O'Keefe "sting" operation came while Republicans were seeking to strip NPR of public funds, just as O'Keefe's earlier phony ACORN "pimp" scam was timed to aid the effort to strip that organization of public funds in advance of the 2010 election, sidelining the nation's largest voter registration effort which tended to benefit Democrats at the polling place.
The more intriguing feature is the use of the supposedly Muslim Brotherhood-connected media operatives.
For years, both the American hard-right and the U.S. government have demonized Muslim-connected groups --- a task that is easily accomplished by simply having the government label a group as a "terrorist organization."
While the essence of responsible journalism operating under the First Amendment is to give voice to unpopular opinions and disfavored individuals and groups, O'Keefe and friends believed they could taint someone who gave voice to such cherished First Amendment principles as a "terrorist sympathizer," just as Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), in his day, would have smeared anyone in the media as a "Communist sympathizer" for daring to question his motives.
Instead of denouncing the O'Keefe smear campaign, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation to Ron) condemned Ron Schiller's remarks. The NPR website described Ron's remarks as a "gaffe." Vivian's effort to appease the hard-right failed. And shortly after Ron resigned, Vivian resigned as well.
NPR's Dana Rehm --- apparently unaware that the Republicans whom she feared would remove NPR's public funding had intended to do so to begin with --- cowered in the face of the right-wing smear machine, announcing "The comments contained in the video released today are contrary to everything we stand for, and we completely disavow the views expressed."
What is contrary to everything NPR stands for, Dana? The idea that Muslims would be given a voice on the public airwaves? Or does NPR simply object to a journalist who would accurately describe the Tea Party as anti-intellectual and xenophobic?
Virgil Peck's 'Feral Hogs'
In The Lucifer Effect, Prof. Zimbardo observed that dehumanization is "one of the central processes in the transformation of ordinary, normal people into indifferent or even wanton perpetrators of evil….a 'cortical cataract' that clouds one’s thinking and fosters the perception that other people are less than human…to see…others as enemies deserving of torment, torture, and even annihilation."
As NPR was scrambling to distance itself from Ron Schiller's "Tea Party" xenophobia observation, there was Virgil Peck, Jr., the chair of the Republican Majority Caucus of the Kansas state House of Representatives, publicly substantiating that what Schiller said was true.
The occasion was a hearing before the Kansas House Appropriations Committee which addressed the use of "sharpshooters in helicopters" to control herds of feral pigs. Peck, who describes himself as "Pro-2d Amendment," said: "It looks like to me as if shooting these emigrating feral hogs works, maybe we have found a solution to our illegal immigration problem."
Barbara Shelly of the Kansas City Star was nearly as troubled by Peck's subsequent explanation as she was with his initial remark. She wrote:
"I was just speaking like a southeast Kansas person," he told the Lawrence Journal World, though two other lawmakers from southeast Kansas have hastened to disassociate themselves and their part of the world from Peck’s reprehensible anything-but-funny attempt at a joke.
Unfortunately, the level of Peck's xenophobia is neither isolated nor limited to southeast Kansas. And, if we cannot depend upon journalists to render accurate assessments of that xenophobia or to give voice to those whose beliefs either the right-wing or the government does not wish us to hear, Peck's may not be the worst of what is to come.
Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).