Republicans going in for the kill on public radio were notoriously dealt a coup by the secretly taped sting interview given by NPR top fundraiser Ronald Schiller to undercover conservatives posing as potential donors from a non-existent Muslim group. Both Ronald and NPR executive Vivian Schiller (no relation) stepped down in the aftermath—part of an almost uniformly craven response on the part of public broadcasters and liberals in general. Those who aren’t retreating are merely crying foul. Among lefty commentators, Jason Linkins on Huffington Post March 14 charges that “deceptive editing” made Ron Schiller’s comments seem worse than they really were. That strikes us as somewhat beside the point. It would also be a little beside the point to complain about how widespread this game of “gotcha” has become (the left having pulled off similar stings of Scott Walker and Sarah Palin), and the effect this is having on our intellectual climate—although it is pretty funny to watch right-wing websites and left-wing websites each complaining that the “biased” media are giving coverage to the other side’s stings at the expense of their own. But there are some far more serious points here that nobody seems to get.
Note how Ron Schiller ran for cover instead of defending himself when the brouhaha broke. From Huffington Post March 8:
While the meeting I participated in turned out to be a ruse, I made statements during the course of the meeting that are counter to NPR’s values and also not reflective of my own beliefs. I offer my sincere apology to those I offended. I resigned from NPR, previously effective May 6th, to accept another job. In an effort to put this unfortunate matter behind us, NPR and I have agreed that my resignation is effective today.
Yet what exactly did Schiller say that was so egregious? Here’s a transcript from Slate March 8:
SCHILLER: The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian — and I wouldn’t even call it Christian. It’s this weird evangelical kind of move… it’s been hijacked by this group that…
“MUSLIM”: The radical, racist, Islamophobic, Tea Party people?
SCHILLER: It’s not just Islamophobic, but really xenophobic. Basically, they believe in white, middle America, gun-toting—it’s pretty scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.
Whoa, Nelly! Is there something controversial in this statement? Sounds more like a statement of self-evident reality. Are we talking about the same movement that shouted “nigger” and spat at John Lewis last year? Or just last month shouted “terrorists” and hurled verbal abuse at local Muslims attending a charity dinner in Yorba Linda? The same movement that invites adherents of the xenophobic “birther” conspiracy theory to address their confabs? What the hell is inappropriate about calling this movement “racist,” we’d love to know!
But what makes it all the more surreal is that Schiller went on to at least flirt with racism himself. The Daily Caller March 8:
When the ersatz Islamists declare they’re “not too upset about maybe a little bit less Jew influence of money into NPR,” Schiller responds by saying he doesn’t find “Zionist or pro-Israel” ideas at NPR, “even among funders. I mean it’s there in those who own newspapers, obviously, but no one owns NPR.”
So here we go again with the notion that “influential” Jews “own” the media. Schiller was doing fine up until that point—he was just calling a spade a spade, as far as we’re concerned. Then the man who just (appropriately) decried “racists” goes on to engage in a blatant and ugly ethnic stereotype. This bizarre contradiction indicates just how far through the looking glass we are on the whole question of anti-Semitism.
Another case in point. On March 18, the right-wing New York Post took great glee in reporting that veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas is demanding an apology from Barack Obama for criticizing her remarks over which she was forced to resign last year (that Israelis should “go home” to “Poland and Germany”), while throwing in some new ugliness: “Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street, are owned by the Zionists.” Supposed “leftists” like Ralph Nader on Counterpunch (a vile pseudo-left organ if ever there was one) all rushed to Thomas’ defense, of course.
The notion of a powerful Jewish elite controlling world affairs through its insidious conspiracies used to be a bugaboo of the right. When did it become a bugaboo of the left? And why do those who seemingly take the question of racism the most seriously think anti-Semitism (today coded as “anti-Zionism” or “criticism of Israel” much as conservatives veil anti-Black racism with code words like “tough on crime,” “welfare cheats,” “community organizer,” etc.) is OK?
Let’s be clear. Anti-Zionism—opposition to an ideology and system of Jewish colonization in historic Palestine—is, contrary to the claims of those who would conflate it with anti-Semitism, not necessarily anti-Semitic. Criticism of Israel for its real crimes—military aggressions, human rights abuses, ongoing theft and colonization of Palestinian lands—is absolutely legitimate. But the notion of “Zionist” (read: Jewish) control of Washington and the world media is an anti-Semitic trope, by any definition. Why doesn’t anybody get it these days?
We’d like to know.