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Firing Pat Buchanan

MSNBC has kicked Pat Buchanan off its network. Pat writes about this disgraceful episode:

Let error be tolerated, said Thomas Jefferson, “so long as reason is left free to combat it.” What Foxman and ADL are about in demanding that my voice be silenced is, in the Jeffersonian sense, intrinsically un-American. Consider what it is these people are saying.

They are saying that a respected publisher, St. Martin’s, colluded with me to produce a racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic book, and CNN, Fox News, C-SPAN, Fox Business News, and the 150 radio shows on which I appeared failed to detect its evil and helped to promote a moral atrocity.

If my book is racist and anti-Semitic, how did Sean Hannity, Erin Burnett, Judge Andrew Napolitano, Megyn Kelly, Lou Dobbs, and Ralph Nader miss that? How did Charles Payne, African-American host on Fox radio, who has interviewed me three times, fail to detect its racism? How did Michael Medved miss its anti-Semitism?

In a 2009 cover story in the Atlantic, “The End of White America?” from which my chapter title was taken, professor Hua Hsu revels in the passing of America’s white majority. At Portland State, President Clinton got a huge ovation when he told students that white Americans will be a minority in 2050. Is this writer alone forbidden to broach the subject?

That homosexual acts are unnatural and immoral has been doctrine in the Catholic Church for 2,000 years. Is it now hate speech to restate traditional Catholic beliefs?

Documented in the 488 pages and 1,500 footnotes of Suicide of a Superpower is my thesis that America is Balkanizing, breaking down along the lines of religion, race, ethnicity, culture, and ideology and that Western peoples are facing demographic death by century’s end. Are such subjects taboo? Are they unfit for national debate?

Read Pat’s entire column.  I was going to write about this later today, but am prompted to do so now because of Andrew Sullivan’s ringing defense of the man, and denunciation of MSNBC’s blacklisting of him. Excerpt:

He is not a propagandist. He is a passionate writer who loves nothing more than a good argument with a worthy opponent – and he has a serious sense of humor to boot. That his ideas are often repelling should precisely be why he should stay on MSNBC and defend his views against the smartest critiques that can be found. We should stop silencing people and keep debating them.

The idea that he was not the target of much subterranean leftist outrage and pressure to fire him, as my colleague Howie Kurtz reports, seems highly unlikely to me. Yes, as Howie rightly reports, Buchanan’s latest inflammatory book was the casus belli. But Phil Griffin’s views of the book and an underground campaign to fire him from the professional left are not mutually exclusive explanations. I believe Pat on this. The pressure on MSNBC management to get rid of this fly in their propagandistic ointment must have been intense – and came in part from two of the more pernicious liberal interest groups in DC, the Gay Human Rights Campaign and the ADL. Replacing him with Michael Steele – who makes Sarah Palin look like Susan Sontag – is to add insult to injury. In many ways, I admired MSNBC for keeping him on for so long. Fox has not a single liberal of his intelligence, experience and background. But they are pure propaganda. MSNBC is, in this move, now completely indistinguishable from Fox in that respect.

You’ve got to read Andrew’s entry to learn something private that Buchanan did for him that may shock you in its generosity. A few years ago, I learned from a friend of a similar mercy Andrew showed to someone in dire need, an act so startling (and hidden) that it made me conclude that no matter how bitter our public disputation ever became, no matter how outrageous and unfair I might consider things he writes at times (and vice versa), Andrew Sullivan was at his core decent man, and that I mustn’t forget that.

Anyway, back to Buchanan. I can’t improve much on what Andrew has said, and what Pat has said in his own defense. I would only add that this tendency we have in our political culture to blacklist people is appalling, anti-democratic, and anti-intellectual. You never learn anything from 95 percent of the people you see on television, or 90 percent of the people you read in the papers. Why not? Because they are safe. On both the left and the right, we have become a nation of pathetic babies who cannot stand to hear a considered opinion that violates our own personal orthodoxies. We rarely allow our own ideas to be tested, because to be compelled to hear the dissenting views of others hurts our feelings or offends what we hold sacred. This magazine, TAC, came into existence in part because the official Right-Thinking Right Wing anathematized anti-war conservatives (“unpatriotic” they were called, and to my later shame, I believed this too) during the march-up to the disastrous Iraq War.

Some people’s feelings, of course, are more valuable than others. For example, as Pat writes, it is fine to discuss the demographic decline of white America as long as you are approving of it (e.g., Hua Hsu, Bill Clinton), but not if you lament it. No doubt lines have to be drawn. Not every voice deserves to be heard, not every opinion aired. I moderate comments here for a reason. Overall, though, it seems that we keep narrowing the noose around tolerable speech in this country, such that nobody can say anything that might remotely offend some interest group without putting his or her career at risk. It happened to Octavia Nasr at CNN, for saying something stupid. It happened to Roland Martin more recently at CNN, for a penny-ante tweet that pissed off homosexuals. I don’t feel sorry for Roland Martin, who has made a point of hating on me for over a decade for an ill-considered column I wrote back in 2001; but what the cowardly CNN did to him was wrong.

To be clear, I don’t say people shouldn’t take umbrage at what this or that commenter says. I do it all the time. But being angered or offended by something someone has said is a very different thing from declaring that they have no right to say it, or that by saying it they should lose their livelihood. One reason American newspapers and television news programs are so damn boring is because they are for the most part run by people who are afraid.  If you never print or broadcast something that stands to offend someone, you are almost certainly not printing or broadcasting much that stands to enlighten, or even interests people.

Back when Spike Lee actually made movies people wanted to see, he gave an interview saying that black people needed to “control” their image in Hollywood. The black critic Stanley Crouch denounced that attitude, and said the better approach is to expand the range of portrayals of blacks in film. So much of today’s mainstream media, driven by thoughtless activists, takes the Spike Lee approach. In fairness, they are responding in a way to audience pressure. We ourselves aid and abet this cowardice and mediocrity by becoming the kind of people who demand never to be confronted by an opinion with which we might disagree strongly.

I should probably be more clear when I complain, as I regularly do, about the New York Times’s liberal bias. It’s not that I don’t want them to publish stories and commentary from a left-liberal point of view. I find that interesting, usually, and valuable to the making of my own perspective. What I most object to is the way they consistently ignore or caricature people, institutions, and ideas that don’t align with its own narrow orthodoxies. My hope for the Times is not that they stop publishing articles that tick me off, but that they expand their vision, and their range of voices. Nevertheless, God forbid that I should ever call for a writer or broadcaster to be fired for stating an opinion I found offensive. Every time an outfit like CNN and MSNBC fires someone like Pat Buchanan, or suspends someone like Octavia Nasr and Roland Martin, they send a powerful signal to up-and-coming journalists: don’t ever step out of line or take a risk, or say anything that could offend religious, political, or victim-group loudmouths, or your career could be over.

UPDATE: I’ve changed the subject line from “Blacklisting” to “Firing.” It’s more accurate.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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