When it comes to protests, I always try to give the grace that is unafforded my ideological allies and me, to others. Erick Erickson offered a nod to such grace in a piece on Ferguson this week: “[I]f we say most conservatives are not racist despite what the left would have us believe, we should be willing to believe that not all of the black community is prone to riot when these terrible things happen.” Yes, some Occupy and Ferguson protesters engaged in all kinds of violence and mayhem that would be on every front page and leading every newscast in America if anyone tried them within six square miles of a Tea Party rally. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of genuinely concerned and peaceful people among their ranks. Despite such marring, documented acts of violence and vandalism, the mainstream media routinely refers to any left-of-center protest as “mostly peaceful.” Whereas errant signs and, God forbid, raised voices in the vicinity of a Congressional town hall are enough to touch off think pieces about the coming violent end of the Republic at the hands of formerly mild-mannered Midwesterners, as long as those Midwesterners might have voted McCain. Mere civil disobedience is pretty much out of the question for any Tea Party rally. Though it’s a respected and lauded part of peaceful protest efforts on the Left, blocking city streets and handcuffing oneself to public property are just not on the menu of peaceable options for Tea Partiers, who are routinely reported on as violent vigilantes bent on the destruction of public services even as they tidy public parks as their exit. If something allegedly bad happens at a Tea Party, participants are forced to prove a negative, whereas the Left’s transgressors are always deemed anything but emblematic of their cause.
All that to say, yes, MSNBC would react quite differently if it were Tea Partiers throwing rocks at their anchors. Larry O’Connor made this point today, which though we all know it, remains rather mind-blowing in its stark double standard.
After witnessing the spectacle of MSNBC host Chris Hayes getting pelted with rocks by an angry mob in Ferguson, Mo., Monday night, I was struck by a feeling of anger and frustration. Not at the rioters. Rioters throw rocks. That’s what they do. My anger was at the despicable display of “tolerance” and “understanding” displayed by Hayes, as he lowered his expectations for civil behavior to accommodate his liberal need to be accepted by the mob.
Chris Hayes and his MSNBC colleagues Rachel Maddow, Laurence O’Donnell, Ed Schultz, Chris Matthews, and Al Sharpton, have spent hundreds of hours of air time explaining to the world how the grassroots conservative movement known as the “tea party” is the greatest threat to our democratic republic. Indeed, if Hayes or any of his colleagues were covering a tea party protest against Obamacare or big government spending and a stray rock was thrown his way, he would be suing everyone from Sarah Palin to Sean Hannity to Ted Cruz, and we’d be hearing all about the “violent extremists” on the right.
I suppose Hayes would tell you, “Well, these protesters actually have something to be mad about.” He’d be right that the protests are about a different subject, but though some acts of violence shouldn’t discount an entire movement, they shouldn’t be acceptable responses. And, violence wouldn’t be acceptable, to Hayes or to protesters, at a Tea Party rally. It is a kind of opportunistic soft bigotry to allow it in your ideological fellow travelers.
O’Connor, whose whole piece you should read, offers this as an example of the reaction the other way around:
But we don’t need a hypothetical like this to tell us how MSNBC would react to this scenario. In 2012, an MSNBC producer physically assaulted a person at the RNC convention merely for heckling Chris Matthews over his famous “thrill up his leg” comment. No rocks involved in that incident, just good, old-fashioned free speech.
Oh, but that’s not the first time MSNBC hosts have found the vocalizing of right-of-center sentiments quite appalling and threatening. Let me offer my own flashback to a piece I wrote for the Weekly Standard in the wake of the town halls of August 2009 (I’ve referenced it before, but so glaring is the double standard, it’s worth mentioning again). If you were only watching media coverage of them, you’d assume they were tantamount to a nationwide bloodbath, but the data showed something very different (500+ town halls, 11 instances of documented arguable violence whose evidence I presented, 7 of 11 liberal-on-conservative). Here’s how MSNBC reacted to those harrowing town hall meetings:
It had been a rough month by the time 67-year-old Bert Stead of Redding, Calif., stepped to the microphone at an August 18 town hall meeting with Republican representative Wally Herger. It was about to get rougher.
Dissent, formerly the highest form of patriotism, had suffered a precipitous decline in repute since the beginning of the Obama administration, a decline that in August deepened into a nosedive.
Stead and the thousands of other Obamacare critics flooding town halls to make their dissent known had been called “extremist mobs” by the Democratic National Committee, pawns of the insurance industry by Senator Dick Durbin, “un-American” by Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, “brownshirts” by Representative Brian Baird of Washington, “manufactured” and “Astroturf” by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, “evilmongers” by Senator Harry Reid, accused of “fear-mongering” by the president, and been deemed “political terrorists” by Representative Baron Hill of Indiana.
So the Redding veteran decided to say something about it. “I have been known to say things fishy,” he started, as the crowd cheered his sarcastic allusion to the infamous invitation by the Obama White House (“If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to .”). Stead continued: “I have been known to even attend a Redding Tea Party. . . . I wanna say that I’m a proud right-wing terrorist.”
It was clear to those who have followed the debate over town halls, including most of those at Herger’s event, that Stead was mocking the rhetoric of Baron Hill and the other over-the-top Democrats. Herger got the joke: He replied to Stead’s speech with a smile, “Amen, God bless you. There is a great American,” before speaking to his health care concerns.
But MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, a political pugilist turned punctilious scold, declared Stead’s words so awful, he could not bring himself to finish the thought:
A guy who thinks it’s okay, in this day and age, to call himself a right-wing terrorist. This is the dangerous edge, in which these people, including some elected officials, are now dancing. We’ve been here before. Words lead to actions, words create the national mood, the mood creates a license. People take that license and use it. I’m not spelling it out any further because I don’t want to.
Fellow MSNBCer Keith Olbermann took an uncharacteristically hard line on the use of sarcasm in a public forum, saying “even if he was being allegorical or hyperbolic, this is not language to bandy about.” He accused Herger, who refused to apologize for the exchange, of “contributing to this climate of paranoia and violence enveloping our political system.”
Liberal blogger Greg Sargent, from his perch at the Washington Post, bemoaned a right-wing mainstream media that excuses the flagrant use of irony by elderly veterans: “Let’s face it, if a Democrat did this, there would be days of media outrage about it. Not to state the obvious or anything, but right-wing terrorists have been known to kill American citizens.”
Not to state the obvious or anything, but the climate of paranoia and violence that enveloped our political system this August was largely a creation of people like Matthews and Olbermann. The edge on which we’re dancing is about as dangerous as the one Ren McCormack danced on at the Beaumont prom in Footloose. But the newly dour John Lithgows of the left won’t stand for dancing, conveniently forgetting Camp Casey, Code Pink, papier-mâché Bush effigies, assassination fantasies, Bushitlerisms, profane signage, and the vandalism and violence that marked their own dissent earlier in this decade.