My collision with political correctness.
With that one word I was fired from CNN.
What did the network find “indefensible”? Two mocking words from a mocking sentence in a two-day old column that appeared in this space in The American Spectator and were repeated on Twitter. After speculating on just how the far-left Media Matters would rewrite the First Amendment, the next line in the column read:
The American Spectator has been unable to confirm reports that the original draft of this Media Matters revision ended with the words: “Sieg Heil!”
For two days this column, titled “Fascist Media Matters Moves to Silence Hannity: Free speech under assault from Soros group” — a column that went after the goons of the far left Media Matters and their relentless Nazi-style attempt to intimidate the sponsors of television and radio shows featuring conservatives — sat posted prominently on this very site. My condemnation and mockery of the left-wing group and its tactics — something I have written about as far back as five years ago — was in plain sight for all to read. The reaction from CNN? Total silence. Which is as it should be. CNN has every right to decide who is on its air — no right to edit the works of any of the various writers who ply their trade daily from publications ranging the political gamut from The American Spectator to the New York Times. It was only when I posted those final two mocking words from the column on Twitter that CNN abruptly — angrily — reacted.
Where to start by way of a response? Let’s start with the easiest part and go from there.
I totally disagree that it is “indefensible” — much less inappropriate — to mock and condemn either those who use Nazi-style tactics or Nazis, neo-Nazis, white nationalists and white supremacists — all of which were tragically on display in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend. Mocking and condemning is one of many ways to discredit these despicable human beings and their despicable philosophy. The very idea of treating any of those tactics, groups, or individuals with the kid gloves of a hyperventilating political correctness is itself “indefensible” — turning a blind eye to the horrific ideas and methods that lie behind them.
There is a mind-boggling contradiction here. As this is written CNN — and CNN is far from alone — is sharply criticizing President Trump’s first statement on the violence from the “alt-right” and white supremacists — Neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and others — in Charlottesville. Here’s the headline from the CNN website:
Trump — once again — fails to condemn the alt-right, white supremacists
The story by Dan Merica begins this way:
Bridgewater, New Jersey (CNN) President Donald Trump, a man known for his bluntness, was anything but on Saturday, failing to name the white supremacists or alt-right groups at the center of violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.
As noted, one liberal media outlet after another ran with some version of this story. The point in all of them: the President fails to call out “alt-right, white supremacists.” (Eventually the White House put out a second statement saying the President “condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred, and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi, and all extremist groups.”
But in fact, when I mocked and condemned exactly a bigoted group like this — the “alt-left” Media Matters and their Nazi/Fascist style tactics, tactics I have previously detailed — CNN fired me for doing what it was now demanding exactly that the President do. Apparently there are two very different standards for calling out those who use Nazi/fascist style tactics. And to be certain there is no mistake — the white nationalists and white supremacists, the Klan and all the rest of the bigots who showed up in Charlottesville have no place in the American civil society. Period.
Contrary to the CNN idea that mocking and condemning Nazi-style behavior is “indefensible” is the reality that mocking Nazi-like behavior not to mention Nazis themselves has a considerable history in the world of popular American culture. From Charlie Chaplain’s 1940 film The Great Dictator to Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s The Blues Brothers to the old CBS comedy Hogan’s Heroes and Mel Brooks’ Springtime for Hitler time and time again the mocking of Nazis or their tactics has become a recurring feature in the American arts. The principle is simple: condemnation by ridicule. Which is exactly what I was doing with that line in my column: condemnation of extremists by using ridicule. And I used much more than ridicule.
With reason. For a host of obvious horrific reasons, Nazism led eventually to murderous methods used to implement the idea behind it. Nazism and its corollary idea of a state-run media stands alongside Communism as the world’s worst and most evil governing philosophies — both of which made a point of controlling the flow of information by deciding who did — and who did not — get to speak in the mass media of the day. It is politics and journalism as practiced by sadistic gangsters. To ever, at any time, give a pass to those who traffic in either the philosophy or tactics of this garbage is, yes, “indefensible.”
Among the tools used by Nazis to control the media of the day in Germany was this section from the Constitution of the German Reich, as provided here by the University of South Florida’s A Teachers Guide to the Holocaust:
Thus, restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press, on the right of assembly and the right of association, and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications, and warrants for house-searchers, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.
Translated into modern usage by Media Matters this jewel of suppression goes like this, a direct quote provided by the Associated Press from Angelo Carusone, the group’s president, from his latest anti-free speech venture — this latest one with the goal of driving Fox’s Sean Hannity off the air:
Advertisers will get burned if they continue to associate with Hannity — plain and simple.
Note well, CNN. The man said: “Advertisers will get burned…”
How exactly do advertisers get “burned” by Media Matters? What does this mean in practice? Why do I feel so strongly about this? Let me give you an example of how this game of “burn the sponsors” is played.
In 2012, an advertiser targeted in this fashion was Mark Stevens, the founder and CEO of the MSCO marketing firm located in Rye, New York. His sin? Stevens advertised his company, which has nothing to do with politics, on The Rush Limbaugh Show although just in the New York City media market where the company did business. Several years ago Stevens stepped forward to describe what had happened to him as a result. I interviewed him and wrote about it at the time here.
As Media Matters pressed its “Stop Rush” campaign with Limbaugh advertisers in the wake of the Sandra Fluke affair, calls suddenly began pouring into Stevens’ company from across the country — even though his Limbaugh ads ran only in the New York area — warning Stevens that he and his company’s “every move” were now “under surveillance.” Watch here as Stevens discusses the “insidious” hatred and vitriol that poured in to his company, a company with a high percentage of female employees, when he refused to bow to pressure — as CNN has just done in my case — and pull his ads from the Limbaugh show. There were threats of physical violence, with female employees assailed as “sluts.” A company vice president, a 30-year-old woman, was called a “woman hater.” (Can you say “violence against women”?) Emails — tens of thousands of hostile emails that were frequently “all the damn same” began arriving from senders calling themselves a “Citizen of the Internet” or “Policeman of the Internet.” Stevens received threats that busloads of people were coming to his home and he was warned that his personal safety was in danger. “This is crazy” he told Megyn Kelly.
This was no boycott, Stevens said. He and his company were the target of an “organized terrorist attack.” He declined to finger Media Matters on air, saying he had no evidence. But he said instead the people he suspected were “the usual suspects.”
The usual suspects indeed. Media Matters then — as now — was decidedly not shy about claiming credit for the Stop Rush campaign pressuring advertisers to leave Limbaugh’s show. Carusone (in Carusone’s own words) presented himself all over the press with his Stop Rush movement. Carusone said he “started talking to (Rush Limbaugh) advertisers on Thursday, and got a lot of feedback on Friday, and I knew a lot of movement was taking place. This was important to think about from a business perspective.” So lovely. Angelo Carusone and Media Matters as a combination of Martin Luther King and Gandhi, yes? All you need is love. Kumbaya.
In the world of hard reality for those at the receiving end of Media Matters’ tactics? Decidedly not.
I wrote that Stevens, when I interviewed him, was also struck by the thousands of supportive emails and snail mails he received from Americans across the country who had heard his story as told to Fox hosts Stuart Varney (as here) and Megyn Kelly. He was very disturbed about the concerns he read from his supporters. They were, Stevens said, frightened that he had somehow “violated the rules of a totalitarian society.” As I wrote:
Some (of his supportive) e-mails came from professionals, accompanied by photos of badges or official ID with police forces as far away as Los Angeles. Mark understood. He too had developed this uneasy feeling that standing up in today’s America was “like being an outspoken critic of the government under a totalitarian regime.” He paused. “We don’t have it yet,” he mused, “but it’s too much like that.”
To erase all doubt about the role of Media Matters in these hate-fests, here, again from the AP story just the other day, is this, bold print supplied by me:
Media Matters for America said Friday it will begin asking Hannity’s advertisers to shun him and will ask thousands of its members to also contact companies. The group is setting up a stophannity.com website and plans to hire a plane to carry an anti-Hannity banner in the New York area.
This is the front end of a “burning” of advertisers by Media Matters, and what happened to Mark Stevens five years ago when the assault was directed at Rush Limbaugh is the reality of how it manifests itself with threats of physical violence, vitriolic phone calls, and thousands of emails.
To criticize, condemn, or mock these Nazi-style tactics by calling out the group in question and its leadership by name is — which as CNN has just demonstrated in my case — hazardous. Media Matters went to work on CNN using their old and now very well used playbook. As they turned their tactics on Rush Limbaugh and now Hannity, they have just done the same to me. And CNN folded.
To actually call attention to the flagrantly gangster-style methods of Media Matters is to risk entering the Orwellian world of the Liberal State Media. They are against calling out a group for their tactics — until they are for it. To protest political gangsterism is to risk being labeled a gangster. Or in my case, condemning and mocking the Nazi-style tactics of Media Matters is to open oneself to being labeled outside the bounds of simple decency if not actually a Nazi. Unless, of course, the President is perceived as not doing it in the Charlottesville episode, in which case CNN and all the rest pile on him for not doing exactly what I did — and got fired for.
I’m sorry, but there are zero circumstances in which I am going to allow CNN to portray my staunchly and consistent opposition to Nazi-style tactics as somehow a wildly spit-up-on-the-dinner-table totally inappropriate moment worthy of instant banishment from The Most Trusted Name in News. Are you kidding? I do think CNN execs honestly don’t get this — the liberal media bubble and all of that. But my portrayal by CNN at my firing — implying that calling out the gangster/Nazi/Fascist style tactics of Media Matters, mocking them, writing yet again about what they are about in terms of shutting down conservatives is such an unreal, “indefensible,” inappropriate, and wildly untrue description of the first magnitude. The term “fake news” comes instantly to mind. No wonder the President of the United States is pissed at his one-time friend.
I have smiled proudly as a CNN commentator at Trump rallies in the face of cries of “CNN sucks.” I never once failed to defend my CNN employer, my CNN colleagues, and my CNN friends. Never… never once. Only to see that in a blink — CNN abandoned me because I took on a far left organization that masquerades as some high minded media concern when it consistently employs the kind of tactics CNN is so quick to criticize when coming from some nutty right winger. Worse, CNN abandoned me for doing exactly what mere days later they were demanding the President do — bluntly name names of those whose tactics are completely off the charts of respectability.
Particularly disturbing is that what just happened with me and CNN is not some sort of stand-alone. As with the Mark Stevens incident, from CNN to Google to college campuses and more, there is a rising tide of intolerance sweeping across major American institutions. All too frequently that intolerance is masked in terms of self-righteous political correctness.
Bill Maher, a liberal with whom I disagree on most things and, full disclosure, on whose HBO show I have appeared, is a true soldier of free speech and spoke out in my defense on… yes!… CNN in a show with Fareed Zakaria. The headline from Deadline Hollywood:
Bill Maher Backs Canned Pundit Jeffrey Lord; Says “This Has Got To Stop”
In which Bill says this as reported thusly:
“I don’t know how long I’m going to last, really,” Maher told Zakaria, bemoaning what he sees as today’s political correctness. “It’s worse every year. The things that they go after people for now. Your colleague — I don’t agree with him — Jeffrey Lord, CNN got rid of him because he said sieg heil on a tweet. It was a joke.
“This has got to stop, this idea that people have to go away if they’ve offended me even for one moment. How about just move on, turn the page, go to the next thing in your life?”
There is more to the old-fashioned use of double-standards. As I made the rounds of radio shows from coast-to-coast the day after my firing I was repeatedly asked about CNN’s tolerance for those who, employed by CNN, have used social media or other forums to compare the President of the United States to Adolf Hitler or conservatives to Nazis. I had to confess my ignorance as I was not aware. Over at Fox, Mark Steyn and Pete Hegseth, criticizing CNN for their decision, made the point that — if one is a liberal — Nazi references are not only never assailed by CNN as “indefensible” they most assuredly are not followed by a summary firing. They are in fact not even noticed, given a total pass if not being treated as A-OK. I was also asked numerous times if CNN had wanted to get rid of me and merely was cynically using this as an excuse, something that was also said by Rush Limbaugh on his Friday show. I replied that I had no evidence of that.
CNN has put itself in the position of firing me for mocking and condemning Angelo Carusone as the employer of Nazi-style tactics. As noted in my original column from last Tuesday, there was this discovery from the Daily Caller about Carusone during his Stop Rush campaign. The headline:
Media Matters Executive Wrote Racist, Anti-Semitic, Anti-‘Tranny’ Blog Posts
The story says, in part, this:
A top executive at Media Matters for America and the principal activist in the “Stop Rush” campaign made racist and anti-Semitic comments and disparaged “trannies” on a dormant blog that he wrote just several years prior to his prominent liberal activism career.
Blog entries reviewed by The Daily Caller show that Angelo Carusone made derogatory remarks about ethnic groups and used language to insult “trannies” and ugly “gays” that would be considered hate speech by his own organization.
Which is to say, CNN has now put itself in the position of firing me because I used a mocking Nazi salute to a guy who, again, was reported as having written “Racist, Anti-Semitic, Anti-‘Tranny’” blog Posts. If I had said my mocking “Sieg Heil” to David Duke or Richard Spencer or the other racial, anti-Semitic obsessives tied in with the Klan or Nazis or Neo Nazis, would CNN have cared? Call me skeptical.
I’m sorry. But being fired for standing up against this kind of racist, anti-Semitic, and yes, anti-Transvestite garbage is simply wrong. In fact? It is “indefensible,” not to mention totally inappropriate.
Was there a better way for CNN to handle this? Decidedly yes. If CNN were this upset about what I said in my column, then invite Angelo Carusone and/or Media Matters founder David Brock and myself on to CNN to debate — to discuss the issue of Media Matters activities in a civilized fashion in a session moderated by a CNN anchor. I’ve met David Brock in the CNN Green Room. The only thing that occurred was a polite handshake, my hand extended first. Instead, the network allowed itself to be bullied into submission by the standard Media Matters assault opening itself to unwanted and decidedly unnecessary criticism as craven, intolerant, and mean spirited. Things that I know from my personal experience at CNN are simply not true.
There is a larger, albeit subjective and political, concern here as well for the network. CNN tries to position itself as neither Right (like Fox) or Left (as with MSNBC) but rather as the Center — straight down the middle. But as I took CNN questions from talk radio hosts, the issue of the famous and ongoing battle between President Trump and CNN was repeatedly raised. In fact, it was clear that CNN was seen as not The Center but as an only slightly paler MSNBC — or sometimes even further to the Left. I was even asked if the White House/CNN clash was not ideological at all but rather nothing more than a high stakes, high visibility personal fight between President Trump and his onetime friend CNN President Jeff Zucker, with the latter cast as some sort of Captain Ahab obsessively attacking his white whale — the President.
I need to be clear.
I have nothing but wonderful memories of my time at CNN, and many wonderful friendships that blossomed with it. On my end — in spite of the way some reading this rebuttal will take it — there is nothing but the greatest respect and affection from me for everyone there from Jeff Zucker on down. I’m just very, very disappointed at CNN’s conduct and with Jeff. In truth, I am incredulous. (I can already hear the President of the United States whispering in my ear: “I told you so.”)
In fact, I have heard from so many CNNers privately. It is a mark of just how concerning this atmosphere of totalitarian-style repression that is abroad in the land is that I would never thank any of them by name in public for fear that — simply by guilt of association with me -they too would come under instant attack accompanied by a demand for removal from their job. Or worse, they could be deluged, as was Limbaugh advertiser Mark Stevens, with thousands of hostile emails and threats of physical violence.
In point of fact Jeff Zucker himself has been targeted for removal in various media accounts for exactly this reason — having me and other Trumpers on the air at all.
A while back the New York Times Magazine featured Jeff under the title “CNN Had a Problem. Donald Trump Solved It: Inside the strange symbiosis between Jeff Zucker and the president he helped create.”
After reading the article I sent Jeff a positive note. A few days later we crossed paths in a CNN newsroom. He thanked me for the note. Sympathetic to the heat he has taken for my presence, I told him: “I’m expendable.” To which Jeff replied with a shrug: “We’re all expendable.”
So my moment of expendability has arrived.
The irony? In one of our first meetings, we were discussing conservative criticism of CNN, specifically by Rush Limbaugh. Jeff asked me of my CNN appearances: “Have you ever been censored?” To which I replied with the absolute truth: “No.” Alas.
Alas that is no longer true. For mocking bigotry — directly to a man whose blog posts were discovered to be in the words of that memorable story “racist, anti-Semitic (and) Anti-‘Tranny’ and whose organization uses Nazi-style tactics of intimidation and fear against advertisers — I have not only been censored but summarily fired to please a left-wing lynch mob. A lynch mob that, as Mark Stevens attests, is all too willing to threaten physical violence in service to what Stevens called “an organized terrorist action.”
This isn’t a question of my abrupt dismissal being deeply, offensively wrong — which it is. Nor is this about the right of CNN to fire anyone it chooses. It most assuredly does have that right. I can understand the Kathy Griffin problem with a bloodied severed head of the President. But I did not understand the dismissal of Reza Aslan, the host of the CNN documentary series Believer. I don’t agree politically with Reza — we once debated on Don Lemon’s show. But in fact I told Jeff Zucker that if it helped I would be more than happy to speak up for Reza’s right to tweet offensive sentiments of President Trump. They had nothing to do with his show and he seemed to me from both debating him and watching his work that he was a decidedly good person with a sizable body of knowledge about his subject. Exactly the kind of person CNN or any other network should be pleased to host. While assailing the President in such vulgar terms (a piece of excrement etc.) isn’t tasteful, Americans have a long, colorful tradition of using strong and yes, even vulgar language to criticize presidents. My offer to defend Reza was declined.
My firing by CNN mirrors the Google firing of memo-writer techie James Damore. Damore wrote of his firing in the Wall Street Journal, saying among other things, this — with bold print supplied by me:
Echo chambers maintain themselves by creating a shared spirit and keeping discussion confined within certain limits. As Noam Chomsky once observed, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”
But echo chambers also have to guard against dissent and opposition. Whether it’s in our homes, online or in our workplaces, a consensus is maintained by shaming people into conformity or excommunicating them if they persist in violating taboos. Public shaming serves not only to display the virtue of those doing the shaming but also warns others that the same punishment awaits them if they don’t conform.
Indeed. I have all of a sudden without warning been excommunicated by CNN, as Damore was at Google. In my case it is because I violated a liberal taboo — Nazi references are OK when applied to supposed “right wingers” but never, ever to “left-wingers.”
Over at the New York Times, new-columnist arrival Bret Stephens — an ex-pat Never Trumper from the conservative editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal — received a whiff of the public shaming treatment dished to the disreputable likes of Damore and myself by Google and CNN when he ventured onto the sacred liberal turf of climate change. As noted by Mark Hemingway in the Weekly Standard:
Since publishing its debut column by Bret Stephens, the New York Times has been under siege by angry readers posting screenshots on social media of them canceling their subscriptions.…
Stephens’s objectionable column — which is well worth reading — is about the left’s unhealthy impulse toward blacklisting anyone who doesn’t validate the political and scientific consensus of left-leaning American elites, never mind that we’ve reached a point where precious few people even bother articulating the difference between the two.
It’s pretty clear that the attack on Stephens boils down to one thing: He’s a conservative telling liberals what they don’t want to hear, and in this case, need to hear.
I violated the “political …consensus of left-leaning American elites” so, like Damore and that brush-back warning to Bret Stephens, I had to go from CNN when I accused a far-Left group of Nazi-style thuggery and mocked them with that tweeted “Sieg Heil.” Do I think for one moment that my CNN colleagues would ever consciously endorse the kind of Nazi-style tactics that attacked a private citizen like Mark Stevens? Not a prayer. But CNN is for whatever reason willfully blind to the reality of the ferocious ideological savageness behind all of this, the kind of ideological savagery that confronted Mark Stevens and who knows how many other advertisers targeted by Media Matters. They see it when it comes from Nazi-style tactics in Charlottesville, but eyes remain closed when it comes from the Left side of the political highway.
But in reality my firing from CNN has nothing to do with me.
My firing raises a basic, fundamental question of whether a free press and those who work in that free press — conservative or liberal or other (and in my case as a television commentator) — can do their job or even have a robust Twitter back-and-forth with a critic. In yet another irony, earlier this year I attended the White House Correspondents’ Dinner as a CNN guest. Hanging above the dais was a banner proclaiming in capital letters:
CELEBRATING THE FIRST AMENDMENT
Again, CNN has the absolute right to hire and fire anyone they choose. But in fact it is closing its eyes to a deliberate, repeated assault by Media Matters on the rights contained in that amendment.
What happens when some group out there on the Right copies the tactics of Media Matters? What happens when the target is no longer Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly or me but Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, Erin Burnett, Wolf Blitzer, Jake Tapper, Brooke Baldwin, Kate Bolduan, John Berman, Poppy Harlow, Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota? In fact, days before I was fired CNN drew criticism from, yes, Media Matters for having me and other supporters of the President on air at all. A shot across the CNN bow.
I was asked post-firing if I was going to apologize. It was noted to me that people in my situation usually and quickly do so. In fact, speaking of Reza Aslan, Reza did just that.
In my case? Not only is my answer to apologizing “no” — you can make that “hell no!” I joked with reporter Candy Woodall from the Harrisburg Patriot-News and it’s on-line site PennLive site — that my reply to that question on the very day that I was fired from CNN became Day One of my No Apology Tour. Why?
Media Matters summons the ugliest demons of history to serve its political ends. Instead of making the positive case for their Leftist political views they focus instead on the use of vile tactics to threaten or destroy the lives of others. Somewhere down this road some targeted advertiser — the next Mark Stevens — could get seriously hurt. There is not a prayer in the world that I would not stand up and fight this kind of intimidation and fear.
One last thing.
This moment is also about CNN — a network with a legendary and distinguished history — not simply caving to pressure from an outside group but doing so to a group whose activities launched atrocious threats of physical violence not to mention verbal abuse of women against an advertiser on the most prominent talk radio show in the land. A group led by a man who posted, again per the Daily Caller, “racist, anti-Semitic” and other unspeakable slurs. In sum: Nazi-style behavior. For CNN to simply roll over for people like this is, in my view, a serious, serious mistake.
Yes, this is a tough response. It was tough to write. But in lieu of events, I very much believe it was needed. But… I want to end on a positive … and deeply felt note.
Thank you Jeff Zucker and all of CNN for the last two years. And I mean that. These two years of my time with CNN were a seriously momentous time in American politics and history and you, Jeff, personally gave me the privilege of a front row seat. I will be forever grateful. The professionalism, patience, thoughtfulness for my mother — from you, Jeff, on through the anchors, producers, bookers, behind-the-camera folks and the make-up artists and, God bless them those limo drivers who constantly shuttled me from Central Pennsylvania to CNN’s doors in Manhattan and Washington — will never be forgotten. Never. My time with CNN was one of the highlights of my life. On a personal level my friends at CNN will be very much missed. We only part because of a serious but honorable note of disagreement over principle. And I confess, yes, I am so very disappointed. But busy here changing Depends for good old 98-year-old Mom, one learns in life as we all do to put aside disappointment, suck it up — and move on. As the ancient wisdom goes, never look back.
My appearances on CNN became known among other things for historical references, and I think I should close my time there with one last reference that encapsulates the way I viewed my role at CNN and the view from my side of this parting divide over very, very serious principle. It’s a quote from one of my favorite abolitionists, William Lloyd Garrison, that was printed in 1831 when Garrison published the first edition of his anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator. His words — reprinted here as they appeared in the original:
I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.
Thanks Jeff for the opportunity to be heard. Thanks in spades to everyone at CNN. I may be bruised here, but I still love you all!