The Media's Pathetic Double Standard

The Media's Pathetic Double Standard

By Mark Salter - September 15, 2009

I think Joe Wilson is a boor (both Joe Wilsons, for that matter, the Republican House member from South Carolina and the former diplomat). I can't watch Glenn Beck for two minutes without being repulsed by his equal parts maudlin and pompous shtick. But members of Congress who are strangers to decorum and polite discourse, unfortunately, inhabit both parties' caucuses, in roughly equal numbers. President Bush labored through his state of the union addresses through loud and persistent boos by Democrats. Maxine Waters recently called some senators "Neanderthals," a term she reserved for moderate members of her own party. She's considerably less charitable to her Republican colleagues. And the ratings wars on cable television are won by self-aggrandizing, close-minded, loudmouthed conservatives and liberals, unless one thinks Keith Olbermann built his audience share on the strength of his good manners and tolerance.

Excesses of zeal by anti-Obama protestors make me ashamed for my country. As did excesses committed by anti-Bush protestors. Today's "birthers," are no more offensive or weird than those who believe the Bush Administration was complicit in planning the attacks of September 11 or invaded Iraq to increase the profits of defense companies. And, yet, it only seems to be rude or asinine behavior on the right that gives the press and other Washington elites the vapors. While on the left it is tolerated, attributed to provocations by the right, or in some cases invested with a virtuous significance it surely lacks.

Many thousands of demonstrators marched on the Washington Mall last Saturday to protest Democratic healthcare reform proposals, and the Obama administration's record spending and centralization of economic power in the federal government. The Washington Post headlined the event as "Lashing Out at the Capitol." I can't recall the Post using a similar verb choice to characterize the expressions of anti- war protestors, some of whom carried posters bearing President Bush's likeness in a Nazi uniform and Hitler moustache.

Political intolerance and incivility by the left and right is as prevalent on the internet as porn, and not that much less a factor in the coarsening of our culture. But for many reporters, anger on the right side of the web is worrying and important story. The Huffington Post is a source.

Maureen Dowd, who usually offers readers little more than a few samples of her apparently limitless supply of silly pop culture tropes, this Sunday denounced Joe Wilson's lack of impulse control and "lovelorn" Mark Sanford's refusal to accept federal stimulus money as racist, and suspects the character defect is shared by most opponents to President Obama's policies.

I'm more than a little familiar with that calumny, having been charged along with other senior members of the McCain campaign and our candidate with the same offense. We were somehow complicit with every intemperate jerk who shouted something obnoxious at any of our campaign events. Our ads about Democratic support for Fannie Mae were racist. Calling candidate Obama a "celebrity" was racist. Shouts of "murderer" or "warmonger" by Obama supporters or our opponent's accusation that Senator McCain was anti immigrant or trying to steal grandma's Medicare went largely unnoticed. And yet it was our candidate who often and publicly denounced crude or outrageous attacks on our opponent. The courtesy was seldom returned. McCain would have fired any staffer who said something or acted in a way that could fairly be described as racist. For his troubles, he was likened by a leading civil rights figure and Obama supporter to the murderers who killed three little African American girls. There was barely a murmur of protest by the press about that injustice.

When a prominent abortion doctor was murdered the shocked outrage in the press and establishment Washington was pervasive and appropriate. As a pro-life Catholic, I'm convinced that people who murder to advance the cause are destined for a special place in Hell. But I don't think it's just my subjective perception that the murder of a disabled pro-life protestor was met with considerably less interest and outrage here.

I despair of the coarsening of our politics and our broader culture. So much so that after a lifetime in politics I'm beginning to think I might have rendered more honorable service to humanity had I worked in professional wrestling. That independents, who decide elections in this country, seem to feel the same way is enough encouragement to hope that perhaps we are still capable of reform. But our political discourse won't begin to recover any civility until we get some referees back in the game, who will call bullshit on both sides.

Mark Salter is the former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain and was a senior adviser to the McCain for President campaign.

This article originally appeared at and is reprinted with permission.

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