Are we verging on the scandalous?
The American Spectator has learned that Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has specifically denied that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops agreed to an attack on talk radio and Fox News personalities. Contrary to an FCC filing and media package released by the interfaith group So We Might See, a "Media Justice" project run by the United Church of Christ and funded in part by left-wing billionaire George Soros. The USCCB Communications office also says specifically to a complaining Catholic "that, although USCCB is one of the groups constituting So We Might See, USCCB did not join the petition of which you complain."
To another angry Catholic the USCCB said: "Please note also that, although USCCB is one of the groups constituting So We Might See, USCCB did not join the petition of which you complain."
Get that? The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is denying that it signed onto a formal petition to the FCC naming Rush Limbaugh by name as a purveyor of hate speech. The debate is perhaps best represented by one concerned Catholic's question to this column: "Who is correct? I don't see any official statement from the USCCB denying or confirming."
In point of fact, this response to that question from the USCCB to a Catholic Spectator reader is what seems to come closest to answering the question:
Please note also that, although USCCB is one of the groups constituting So We Might See, USCCB did not join the petition of which you complain. USCCB shares So We Might See's general commitments to improving access to broadband among the under-served; to reducing violence in all media; and to reducing the excess of advertising in children's programming. But USCCB does not join in every action of the group, as in the case of this petition.
Responding to an inquiry from a member of his diocese, the Archbishop says instead that "the USCCB feels that its involvement has been misrepresented" by So We Might See. Separately, the USCCB says its is interested in other issues like Broadband.
Can you say "scandalous"?
The USCCB was portrayed by So We Might See, led by United Church of Christ Office of Communications, Inc. Executive Director the Reverend J. Bennett Guess, as supporting an FCC investigation into remarks made by "several TV and radio commentators, such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and Lou Dobbs." The alleged remarks, on the immigration issue, were labeled as "hate speech" by the group.
In fact, what the USCCB had agreed to, says Archbishop Chaput, was specifically outlined in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission on July 29, 2009, in reference to a "Petition for Inquiry into Hate Speech in Media." The letter, obtained by the Spectator and written at the request of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, cited no one in talk radio or on Fox News, nor did it mention either talk radio or Fox News in general. Nor did it ever say the USCCB was signing on to the So We Might See Petition, the impression that was given by the e-mail from the United Church of Christ to its own members. Instead, the USCCB said it supported "a broad public forum in which to raise and debate (hate speech and other issues) in a respectful manner."
So We Might See, it was revealed in this space last week, was launched with a $40,000 grant from the Media Democracy Fund, which in turn receives funding from the Open Society Institute, an organization associated with left-wing billionaire George Soros. The group's remaining funds have been supplied by the liberal Ford Foundation and the Otto Haas Trust. According to the Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media, the UCC's Reverend Guess is listed as the sole "key personnel" involved with the group, although the website for So We Might See lists two others, including longtime media activist Cheryl Leanza. Leanza is listed by the UCC as working with Guest in the UCC Office of Communications.
As revealed in this space last week, the group had a private lunch with FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps on September 30th of this year, apparently to discuss the petition and the issue of hate speech on talk radio and Fox News.
The Archbishop's response, accompanied by a copy of the USCCB's July letter to the FCC, is striking in terms of the difference between the actual position of the USCCB and as it was presented by Guess.
• Reverend J. Bennett Guess: "Together, we can express our concern about the frequency and tone of anti-immigrant remarks made by several TV and radio commentators, such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and Lou Dobbs."
• Archbishop Charles J. Chaput: "The USCCB is not specifically attacking any public journalist or commentator."
In another communication, the USCCB staff official responding said: "(W)e are certainly not participating in any campaign to censor any news organization, program or commentator. I hope this clears up any confusion as to the position of the USCCB."
The differences were also apparent in defining "hate speech."
So We Might See specifically defines "hate speech" in the following four ways:
• False Facts consist of incorrect, exaggerated, or de-contextualized facts.
• Flawed Argumentation is rooted in hidden assumptions, guilt by association, and appeal to fear.
• Divisive Language creates and/or encourages an “us vs. them” mentality. Hard times often incite blaming “others” as the source of trouble. Catholics, Jews, and African Americans have been routinely targets as scapegoats for those wishing to further their own agendas.
• Dehumanizing Metaphors evoke messages relating to warfare, heroism, disease, and biblical characters.
The USCCB says: "Defining hate speech, and determining what, if any, actions the FCC can take regarding the broadcast of such speech, are complex matters that raise difficult constitutional and regulatory questions."
The media package accompanying the appeal falsely portrayed the USCCB as endorsing portrayals of Fox News commentators Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck, along with CNN's Lou Dobbs as guilty of hate speech. The portrayals were provided with specific links to videos of all three men.
Archbishop Chaput's response came in answer to a query by a member of his diocese. In responding the Archbishop indicated that he had checked directly "with the right person at the USCCB."
Sending along a copy of the July letter to the FCC, the Archbishop said that "in light of the letter" the Bishops felt their position was "misrepresented" by So We Might See. The USCCB is listed by So We Might See as a participant in the group along with Guess's own United Church of Christ, the Islamic Society of North America, United Methodist Communications, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) along with "several other faith groups."
The Archbishop also made plain that he regarded an FCC "notice of inquiry" as "a low-level hearing only; it cannot result in any rules change." He also said that that the Catholic Conference of Bishops had "informed the sponsors of this effort that (1) there are serious constitutional concerns raised by any interference with free speech; (2) it's not at all clear that the FCC has jurisdiction or can actually do anything about the problem; and (3) 'hate speech' is an ambiguous concept with some troubling implications for religious believers and their right to hold and preach doctrines that some might find offensive."
In the latter category, the letter from the USCCB to the FCC asks:
* "For example, would Roman Catholic teachings on marriage or homosexuality be deemed hate speech by some gay rights advocates?"
* When does speech criticizing, or even demonizing an identified group of people become an incitement to violence, and what is the FCC's role regarding incitement?"
The Archbishop concludes his covering e-mail by saying: "In other words, USCCB 'support' for this effort is narrowly limited."
Now. What to make of this?
Again, full disclosure: the United Church of Christ is my own denomination. I serve as the president of my own local church council as well as a member of the board of directors of the UCC's Penn Central Conference.
One of the ironies here is that the UCC, soliciting signatures on this FCC petition from its members and lay leaders, not only never says the Catholic Bishops have not signed on to this petition, it never once informs UCC members of where the funding for the organization comes from. Mr. Soros's connection is never mentioned.
Indeed, the very existence of So We Might See itself as a UCC-run and promoted group -- yet financed by outside left-wing sources like Soros -- runs counter to the heated complaints made by then UCC President the Reverend John Thomas about the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy, a group he charged with using outside funding sources "to co-opt our churches or control our agenda."
Obviously, what's not OK within the UCC for Richard Mellon Scaife, the Bradley Foundation, and other IRD funders is just fine for George Soros and other outside groups on the extreme left. If you have the correct left-wing political pedigree and a checkbook to match, the national UCC bureaucracy will sell both its soul and its name for outside use, not to mention misrepresenting our Catholic friends in the process -- all for the sake of attacking popular talk radio and Fox News commentators to the FCC.
While we're on the subject of hate speech, let's use the UCC's own criteria here and take a look at this issue in a startling place -- the United Church of Christ itself.
Here are several links to audio of various talk radio personalities who have been or are now hosts on the left-wing Air America over the years:
• In this one, current host Montel Williams urges Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachman to kill herself.
• In this one, now former host Mike Malloy hopes Glenn Beck will commit suicide
• In this one, Mr. Malloy hopes Rush Limbaugh chokes to death and that former Governor Sarah Palin will go mad.
• In this one, Air America host Sam Seder accuses a Fox anchor of responsibility for a family suicide.
Did I leave out where one-time Air America hostess Randi Rhodes played gunshots in a bit about then-President Bush -- requiring her to make an on-air apology for appearing to suggest not-so-subtly it was OK to shoot the President? Or the time she compared the Bush family to the Corleones of The Godfather fame, suggesting they take George W. Bush and do to him what was done to Freddo Corleone (kill him)? Or that...
Or how about the various vitriolic Air America shots at -- yes -- the Catholic Church, as found here?
One could go on -- endlessly it appears -- with the vile language that spews or has spewed forth from Air America. The mindset of hosts current and former is telling. Again, some of this was said while on Air America airtime, some not and by hosts departed from the station. But certainly it indicates the type of speech that Air America sought out over the years and the kind of thing that has given it such a, ahhh, pungent odor.
But the point here is the pontificating from So We Might See, a UCC run organization, about so-called hate speech.
Amazingly enough, if one goes here on the UCC website, one will find something fascinating, something mentioned before in this space. This official page of the United Church of Christ website is run by the Rev. Chuck Currie, who has made occasional appearances in these columns. Who is he? I'll let the UCC describe him for you:
He is also the author of a widely read blog on religion and social issues that The Los Angeles Times cited in 2004 for "top-tier" editorial writing. In 2007, he was named editor of the United Church News Blog, an official denominational site of the UCC.
If you click onto the UCC-supplied link to Reverend Currie's blog, the one the Los Angeles Times applauded for "top tier" editorial writing, you will find a link to -- yes indeed -- Air America Radio. While his writing is standard left-wing fare, his choice of link is disturbing, considering his page is linked officially by the UCC itself. This link take one to very same place that has produced the assorted garbage mentioned above. Can we talk hate speech?
Air America is a place where people connected with this station at one point or another during or after their stints there have openly appealed to all manner of violent fantasies, including shooting the President of the United States, not to mention mocking Catholics, making grotesque references to family tragedy, etc.
And civility? You're joking, right? And my church has a once-removed official link to this kind of garbage? Huh.
Here's the point -- and a point that goes well beyond the justifiable concern of Denver's Archbishop Chaput about the obvious misuse of the good name of the United Conference of Catholic Bishops by left-wing political activists in my own United Church of Christ denomination. It goes beyond even the vile and disturbing assaults on Congresswoman Michelle Bachman, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Governor Palin and President Bush.
The point -- the real point -- is that hate speech, as the Catholic Bishops themselves wrote about it in their letter to the FCC, is indeed a "complex matter." If the First Amendment were to be subverted into, for instance, the definitions the UCC uses as listed above? The United Church of Christ itself, provider of a link to Reverend Currie who in turn sends his audience on to Air America -- where hate speech as defined by the UCC itself has spewed -- would instantly be vulnerable to whatever sanctions are imagined. Imagine that.
Should the Archbishop Chaput of Denver and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops be getting an apology from someone in my denomination for presenting the USCCB as signers of this petition when they were not? An apology for supporting the singling out of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Lou Dobbs and Michael Savage by name for hate speech when the USCCB agreed to no such thing? Yes. Reverend Geoffrey Black, the new president of the UCC -- are you listening? Apologies for dragging you into this, Reverend Black, but hey. Next to Him, you're us.
Should the entire So We Might See venture be scrapped as a project of the UCC and outside funding returned? Yes. Unless, of course, we are now opening the door for outside foundations to fund ventures led by UCC members on behalf of the church. Hmmm. Perhaps Richard Mellon Scaife would like another challenge?
Should the UCC be embarrassed that it appears to condone both hate speech and a decided lack of civility in the UCC-Currie-Air America trifecta? Wow. To ask the question is to answer.
But should Reverend Guess, Reverend Currie, the UCC or the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- or you or me -- lose our fundamental First Amendment right to say whatever we wish to say -- and yes, Air America too? Even, with very, very broad limits on the radio?
This is a very dangerous game, a scandalous game, the UCC bureaucrats are playing here. They would be the first to lose.
Although the last, perhaps, to be ashamed.