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National NOW Times >> Special Edition, 2001 >> Article

Hate Speech Continues Despite Calls for Compassion

by Heather Gain, Communications Intern

Since the morning of September 11, the U.S. media have scrambled to attach a face to the attackers, offer comfort to the survivors, supply information on U.S. response and security, and present varying viewpoints on constantly evolving events.

Some outlets have tried to offer comprehensive and intelligent discussion, but there has also been a destructive undercurrent of hateful right-wing rhetoric, and little space for viewpoints outside the status quo. This is not a new development on our televisions and radios, but is all the more disheartening when information is so vital.

Communications intern and author of this article, Heather Gain, protesting in Washington, D.C. this fall. For example, executives and journalists at numerous news outlets—from the Panama City (Fla.) News Herald and National Public Radio to Fox and CNN—have suggested that civilian casualties in Afghanistan be downplayed.

"Many in the mainstream media have stopped thinking for themselves and are being shamelessly led by the Bush administration," said NOW Membership Vice President Terry O'Neill. "We are all shortchanged when we are ill-informed."

Harsh Words for Afghans, Women and Immigrants

The Fox News Channel's high-profile Bill O'Reilly declared that "the U.S. should bomb the Afghan infrastructure to rubble -- the airport, the power plants, their water facilities, and the roads . . . The Afghans are responsible for the Taliban. We should not target civilians. But if they don't rise up against this criminal government, they starve, period."

The notoriously rabid commentator Ann Coulter stated: "[N]o one is in the 'grip of fear' over anthrax except the media and their most gullible targets, liberal women. Liberal soccer moms are precisely as likely to receive anthrax in the mail as to develop a capacity for linear thinking." Later in the same column, she continued: "Women – and I don't mean to limit that to the biological sense – always become hysterical at the first sign of trouble." To its credit, the National Review severed its relationship with Coulter after her Sept. 14 column calling for this U.S. response to the terrorism: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

Long-time opponent of women's rights Phyllis Schlafly argued in a recent column that Mexican immigrants are trying to covertly invade the U.S. Many pundits, in fact, have used heightened concerns about terrorism to promote their anti-immigration agendas.

Pat Buchanan writes, "We are only just beginning to see the dark side of diversity . . . The president and Congress should impose an immediate time-out on all immigration . . . and begin the systematic deportation of illegal aliens. [Gov. Tom] Ridge should begin with the aliens from nations that harbor terrorists, any who consort with or fund terrorist organizations and any who applauded the horrors of Sept. 11. When rounded up, these folks should hear just five words, 'Get out of our country!'"

And syndicated columnist Linda Bowles weighs in with this rant: "It is time to face the reality that, according to no particular plan, America is being degraded, disunited and endangered by a powerful flow, wave after wave, legal and illegal, of poor, unskilled and uneducated people into our country, many of whom have no interest in becoming Americans or learning the English language. Unable to join the American mainstream, they will fester in ethnic ghettos, work for sub-standard wages, reproduce, vote the straight Democrat ticket and provide cover for terrorists."

Religious Intolerants in the U.S. Blame Feminists, Lesbians and Gays

Back on Sept. 13, Pat Robertson, host of the Christian Broadcasting Network's "The 700 Club," welcomed Jerry Falwell as a guest. Falwell went on the air no more than 48 hours after the initial attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., to angrily place blame:

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way—all of them who tried to secularize America—I point the finger in their face and say you helped this happen."

After receiving widespread admonitions in editorials, letters to the editor, and even from George W. Bush, both Falwell and Robertson issued so-called apology statements. Robertson tried to back out of the controversy by claiming Falwell's comments were "frankly, not fully understood" by himself and co-hosts. This, despite his nodding head and comments like "I totally concur" as Falwell ranted on. Falwell himself, far from recanting, merely said he regretted the "bad timing" of his remarks and that he "had no intention of being divisive."

Rush Limbaugh surprised just about everyone when he castigated Falwell and Robertson, telling his radio listeners he was "profoundly embarrassed and disappointed by their comments," and that "their words are indefensible." A day later, however, Limbaugh found a new (and particularly chilling) way to defend Falwell. He explained: "In order for me to believe that God was sending America a message, I would need to be shown that the people who died Tuesday were all members of the NOW gang, or abortionists, civil libertarians, et cetera." In other words, if only those who disagree had been killed – then it would be the work of the deity that Limbaugh, Falwell and Robertson believe in.

Women in the Military Targeted

In another display of poor timing and inappropriate commentary, infamous "Dr." Laura Schlessinger spent a large portion of her radio show on Sept. 12 blaming the World Trade Center and Pentagon tragedies on women in the military. Instead of money going toward intelligence and training, she claimed, the military has "put in women and lowered the standards" and redirected funds to sensitivity training. She also said that women should stop "interfering with combat" since "most women can't hack it." At a time when women soldiers are putting their lives at risk for our security and freedom, and when officials are attempting to rally support for our government and military, "Dr." Laura can find nothing better to do than seek to discredit the major achievements women have made in the armed forces.

Don't Just Sit There, Do Something!

Defenders of encroachments by the religious right argue that, because they were distressed by the attacks, public figures who made debasing assertions such as these should not be held accountable. Maybe there are excuses to be made for some in the wake of such terror and anguish. But Falwell, Robertson, Limbaugh, Schlessinger, and the like have long histories of hate speech.

Falwell has declared that "God hates homosexuality," while Robertson chimes in: "Homosexuality is an abomination. The practices of those people is [sic] appalling." Rush Limbaugh once argued with an on-air caller who said the African-American community must be heard: "Why does it have to be heard? They are 12 percent of the population—who the hell cares?" He has also asked, regarding reproductive freedom: "What if a man claimed the right to rape, using the same principle found in the theory that it is his body and he has the right to choose?" "Dr." Laura's references to gays as "biological errors" and her hypocritical attacks against working and single mothers are notorious.

The public has a right and responsibility to control hate-speech in the media by taking our business elsewhere. By letting media outlets and advertisers know what we think, we can make the funds and forums for racist, homophobic misogynists disappear.

Stay up-to-date with NOW's action alerts and our Watch Out! Listen Up! media campaign. Together, we can restore balance in the television and radio dialogue that millions tune into everyday.

"The airwaves belong to the people and we deserve better," says O'Neill.

Click here to send a letter to the media.

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