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Republicans and the Right-Wing Media 'Shoot the Messenger'
Mark Hull-Richter

How many times have we heard the old phrase, "Don't shoot the messenger?" The bearer of bad tidings is not considered to be responsible for the tidings s/he bears.

At least, that's the way it used to be.

Richard Nixon was probably the first President to use this tactic of shooting the messenger. Remember Spiro Agnew's utterly banal remark about the "effete intellectual snobs" in the media? Remember "All the President's Men?" Does the phrase "non-denial denial" ring a bell?

When confronted with reporters who were honest, sincere, and had facts in their hands that they didn't even know what to do with, the Nixon criminals began to assail the people who brought up the bad news. They attacked Woodward, Bernstein, Katherine Graham (no flaming liberal there!) and everyone else in the Watergate investigation, all the way up - until they had to admit their part in it, or were convicted - or resigned.

Today the media is far less hospitable to liberal information, despite the old, tried, hackneyed and blatantly false myth of the "liberal media." Liberals do exist, but not in the mainstream. Read Robert McChesney's excellent expose, "Rich Media, Poor Democracy" to find out more about who owns the media. It isn't liberals any more. In fact, it never was. GE, Sony, Murdoch, Scaife, Moon and their cronies may be many things, but "liberal" just isn't one of them.

Today we are also faced with an administration more bent on secrecy and underhanded tactics than even Nixon would have imagined.

So today, when someone comes up with a really good idea about something that the news media ought to be informed about, and it happens to be a liberal idea, what do they do?

Here's a case in point:

I wrote a letter to the Orange County (California) Register praising Tom Daschle for his courage to stand up and speak the truth about the war in Afghanistan and where it is going, and for criticizing the Republican leadership (okay, let's be honest: dictatorship) in Congress who blast at him at every possible opportunity. It happened to be a letter that was originally written by Democrats.com's very own David Lytel. It was sent out to us to use as a template for our own letters to the editors of our local paper. I liked it enough to use it verbatim.

And so, apparently, did a few other people.

The Register, in one of its interestingly non-partisan acts, published my letter. Now let me say that the Register is a decent newspaper, despite its American Independent Party owners and backers and their John Birch Society affiliations. It has won Pulitzer Prizes and published a lot of things that even the supposedly more liberal Los Angeles Time was afraid to touch. Among these are many Bloom County and Doonesbury comic strips, the most recent of which was only a few Fridays ago. But I digress.

Caught up in the swirl of their heady bravery in publishing this letter from me, they were shocked and dismayed to find out that at least three other papers around the country had published the exact same letter. Except that three other people had also sent it in without modification.

So how did these bastions of liberty and freedom respond? The Register called me up and complained that I had plagiarized the letter and this was a BAD THING. Nothing about the content or its legitimacy.

No. They shot the messenger. With a lie.

In fact, they did exactly the same thing that I, using David's words, was criticizing the Republican Congressional leadership of doing. Remember Trent Lott's response to Tom Daschle's questions about the war and what it meant to win it and where we went from there? He fulminated over Daschle's partisan efforts to attack the pResident and divide the country. (Never mind how he did exactly the same thing during the Monica Lewinsky business when Clinton was President and we had troops fighting in Kosovo. Don't look at that man behind the curtain!) Notice that not only did Lott not confront what Daschle said - if you followed the story, Lott had to admit that Daschle's remarks were accurate and fair. But that was buried in the back pages, just like the real results of the NORC recount. Can't put THAT on the front pages!

Lott didn't bother to mention that Daschle had come to him with the remarks in writing and given them to him to find anything objectionable. Lott was unable to provide any substantive criticism.

As it happens, and as David is pointing out even as I write this (and may well also be published in tomorrow's Register), this is NOT plagiarism. The Register is just embarrassed over being trumped because they weren't the ONLY ones who accepted the letter for publication. And, for the unaware, there's also no copyright issue here. Period.

This didn't stop KABC talk radio here in Los Angeles from broadcasting far and wide about this terrible scandal. While I do not listen to any right wing radio - it gives me a headache - I heard that my name was mentioned a lot on the show. They actually called me, but I declined to respond. I am not in show business, so not all publicity is good - and that kind reeks.

Lessons for the Left

I think what we need to learn from this lesson is that the right-wing media is extremely hostile to any commentary from liberals, even if it is accurate. They may print it, but woe betide the writer if there is ANY way they can assail and belittle it. They will do that, regardless of the value, truth or use of the content.

For myself, I intend to ensure that anything I send to the media now and henceforth will be my own, even if it means completely rewriting such excellent words as may be provided by Democrats.com, or Moveon.org, or the Angry Liberal, or any other liberal source of information that needs to be publicized as far and wide as possible.

I have already done so. May more of you have the courage to do the same. If our chorus is loud enough, we will be heard.

They can't shoot all the messengers if there are enough of us.

But they will have to listen. Maybe, just maybe, they will eventually learn.