Violent Media Rhetoric Beyond Tucson: When Some Calls for Violence Are Acceptable

The discussion of violent and paranoid rhetoric in the media is long overdue, whether or not it is ever determined that accused Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner was somehow influenced or motivated by such rhetoric.  Before the shooting, there had been a remarkable surge of politically motivated violence (FAIR Blog, 1/12/11).  Despite media efforts to suggest this is a problem coming from “both sides” (FAIR Blog, 1/10/11), any disinterested analysis would conclude that the rhetoric coming from the right is both far more virulent and is given a much higher profile by nationally syndicated talk radio and the Fox News Channel.

But any discussion of media support for violence should not exclude other examples, many of which emanate from respectable, mainstream figures in the corporate media.  The difference is that, in most cases, they are supporting or calling for state violence, usually against citizens of weaker countries who cannot, in most cases, defend themselves.  This kind of rhetoric rarely elicits calls for greater “civility” in our public discourse, which suggests that some calls for violence are considered more acceptable than others.

A sampling:

  • Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer (12/3/10) on WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange:

    “Think creatively.  The WikiLeaks document dump is sabotage, however quaint that term may seem. . . .  Franklin Roosevelt had German saboteurs tried by military tribunal and shot.  Assange has done more damage to the United States than all six of those Germans combined.”

  • “Want to prevent this from happening again?  Let the world see a man who can’t sleep in the same bed on consecutive nights, who fears the long arm of American justice.  I’m not advocating that we bring out of retirement the KGB proxy who, on a London street, killed a Bulgarian dissident with a poisoned umbrella tip.  But it would be nice if people like Assange were made to worry every time they go out in the rain.”

  • The Washington Post‘s David Broder (10/31/10) recommended threatening war with Iran as an economic and domestic political strategy:

    “With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran’s ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs.  This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on.  And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.

    I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected.  But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century.  If he can confront this threat and contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.”

  • New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (1/14/09) endorsed the killing of civilians as a military tactic:

    “Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its air force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large.  It was not pretty, but it was logical.  Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future.”

  • Former ABC anchor Ted Koppel, writing in the New York Times (10/2/06), argued that various hypothetical attacks should move the United States to attack Iran, whether or not they were responsible:

    “But this should also be made clear to Tehran: If a dirty bomb explodes in Milwaukee, or some other nuclear device detonates in Baltimore or Wichita, if Israel or Egypt or Saudi Arabia should fall victim to a nuclear ‘accident,’ Iran should understand that the United States government will not search around for the perpetrator.  The return address will be predetermined, and it will be somewhere in Iran.”

  • Fox News Channel‘s Bill O’Reilly (3/26/03) called for the destruction of Baghdad, a city of 4.5 million residents:

    “There is a school of thought that says we should have given the citizens of Baghdad 48 hours to get out of Dodge by dropping leaflets and going with the AM radios and all that.  Forty-eight hours, you’ve got to get out of there, and flatten the place.  Then the war would be over.  We could have done that in two days. . . .  You flatten Baghdad, you flatten all the troops, we know where they go, there’s nowhere to hide in the desert.  We know where everybody’s moving.  And you know as well as I do, this war could have been over in two days. . . .  It’s just frustrating for everybody to know that we have been fighting this war with one hand behind our back.”

  • O’Reilly (9/17/01) recommended strikes on a variety of targets after the 9/11 attacks.  After calling for the U.S. to “bomb the Afghan infrastructure to rubble — the airport, the power plants, their water facilities, and the roads,” O’Reilly went on to say:

    “This is a very primitive country.  And taking out their ability to exist day to day will not be hard.  Remember, the people of any country are ultimately responsible for the government they have.  The Germans were responsible for Hitler.  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.”

O’Reilly added that in Iraq,

    “[T]heir infrastructure must be destroyed and the population made to endure yet another round of intense pain. . . .  Maybe then the people there will finally overthrow Saddam.”

    If Libya’s Moammar Khadafy does not relinquish power and go into exile,

    “we bomb his oil facilities, all of them.  And we mine the harbor in Tripoli.  Nothing goes in, nothing goes out.  We also destroy all the airports in Libya.  Let them eat sand.”

  • O’Reilly (4/26/99) advocated attacks on Serbian infrastructure:

    “If NATO is not able to wear down this Milosevic in the next few weeks, I believe that we have to go in there and drop leaflets on Belgrade and other cities and say, ‘Listen, you guys have got to move because we’re now going to come in and we’re going to just level your country.  The whole infrastructure is going.’

    “Rather than put ground forces at risk where we’re going to see 5,000 Americans dead, I would rather destroy their infrastructure, totally destroy it.  Any target is OK.  I’d warn the people, just as we did with Japan, that it’s coming, you’ve got to get out of there, OK, but I would level that country so that there would be nothing moving — no cars, no trains, nothing.”

  • The Washington Post‘s Krauthammer (4/8/99) criticized the “excruciating selectivity” of NATO’s bombing raids in Serbia and applauded the fact that “finally they are hitting targets — power plants, fuel depots, bridges, airports, television transmitters — that may indeed kill the enemy and civilians nearby.”
  • The New York Times‘ Friedman (4/6/99) recommended that NATO airstrikes against Serbia cause more suffering, since “people tend to change their minds and adjust their goals as they see the price they are paying mount.  Twelve days of surgical bombing was never going to turn Serbia around.  Let’s see what 12 weeks of less than surgical bombing does.  Give war a chance.”  Friedman wrote a few weeks later (4/23/99):

    “Let’s at least have a real air war.  The idea that people are still holding rock concerts in Belgrade, or going out for Sunday merry-go-round rides, while their fellow Serbs are ‘cleansing’ Kosovo, is outrageous.  It should be lights out in Belgrade: Every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted.”

  • Friedman (1/19/99) recommended the U.S. bomb Iraqi infrastructure: “Blow up a different power station in Iraq every week, so no one knows when the lights will go off or who’s in charge.”  A year earlier, Friedman (1/31/98) recommended “bombing Iraq, over and over and over again. . . .  We may have no choice but to go down this road.  Once we do, however, we better have the stomach to stay the course.”

This article was first published by FAIR on 14 January 2011 under a Creative Commons license.  Cf.  Bowling for Columbine.  Dir. Michael Moore.  2002.

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