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By Continuing To Mainstream Right Wing Extremism, Fox News Will Likely Have More Vigilantism To Explain

Reported by Ellen - June 9, 2009 -

Eric Boehlert, of Media Matters, has an excellent column about Fox News' inadequate defense for their mainstreaming of right-wing extremist rhetoric. It has come under scrutiny in the wake of the vigilante murder of Bill O'Reilly's regular target, abortion doctor George Tiller. But nstead of backing off the incendiary language, Fox is maybe not doubling down but certainly digging in its heels of antagonism: claiming that their inflammatory attacks are mere "debate," and attacking liberals further. The result, Boehlert fears - as do I - may well be more vigilantism.

Boehlert writes:

The unconvincing right-wing defense in the wake of the Tiller assassination last week was twofold, with the second layer even thinner than the first. The first was that when conservatives were hounding and demonizing Tiller for years, they were merely debating the issue of abortion. And surely nobody in America opposes a healthy debate, right? Nobody opposes "sharp political disagreement," as Michelle Malkin sugarcoated the Tiller attack, right?

Second, Noise Machine leaders claimed that liberal commentators do exactly what O'Reilly and Beck have been accused of: using violent political hate language that puts people's lives in danger. That claim has been made over and over, yet conservatives can't actually produce any proof -- can't find any hateful liberal quotes -- to buttress the claim.

Boehlert goes on to debunk these arguments, as we have, by noting that O'Reilly's attacks on Tiller consistently went way beyond the line of healthy debate and political disagreement. Furthermore, there's simply no legitimate comparison to any criticisms by liberals toward the right. Boehlert points out that conservatives have yet to put forward any comparably inflammatory liberal quotes from any mainstream liberal pundit. Can there be any doubt that such quotes, if they existed, would have already been trumpeted on Fox and in the right-wing blogosphere?

Another mea not culpa effort has been to accuse liberals and the mainstream media of selective, partisan outrage by singling out O'Reilly while giving a pass to the Muslim gunman who shot two military recruiters in Arkansas. As News Hounds' Julie posted about this effort, O'Reilly turned up no instances of liberals specifically mentioning the murdered soldier by name as a perpetrator of horrific violations against Muslims – the same way O'Reilly branded Tiller a “baby killer” and other similar epithets over 29 broadcasts since 2005. Boehlert notes that there were not even any attacks on military recruiters, as a whole. "As far as I know, there are no gotcha, hateful, get-the-recruiter quotes to hang around the necks of Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow or anyone else on the left for the simple reason that high-profile media liberals haven't led dangerous crusades to target military recruiters the way O'Reilly led a dangerous crusade against Tiller. And the way Beck has against Obama."

Whatever happened to Republicans being the party of personal responsibility? Instead, O'Reilly and Glenn Beck have responded to the possibility that they may bear some blame by trying to deflect any, by suggesting that liberals' hate speech is even more dangerous, more despicable. The message from Fox is clear: O'Reilly only vilified a legitimate villain while liberals target our military.

The fact is that O'Reilly, Beck, Hannity and a slew of other pundits and guests on Fox can't argue away their records of extremist language with the kindergarten excuse "but he did it worse!" especially when they can't come up with any real evidence.

But the real issue here is not blame. It's the role that incendiary, sensationalized rhetoric plays in our national dialogue and the resulting effects. Sadly, Fox seems determined to continue its mainstreaming of vigilante language. Even sadder, political violence and vigilantism may have only just begun. Boehlert points out that the suspect in Dr. Tiller's murder has claimed that similar assassination plots against other abortion doctors are being planned. And as the Department of Homeland Security reported in April (much to the ridicule of but never contradicted by FNC pundits), "a number of economic and political factors are driving a resurgence in rightwing extremist recruitment and radicalization activity. Despite similarities to the climate of the 1990s, the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years. In addition, the historical election of an African American president and the prospect of policy changes are proving to be a driving force for rightwing extremist recruitment and radicalization."

If Fox continues down its path of vigilante-type hate mongering and if more political violence against the same targets follow in its wake, Fox will eventually be forced to come to account with the America it purports to love.