NBC's Gregory Lectures on Civility: 'Racism' Toward Obama 'Brings Out a Level of Hatred'

In a panel discussion on Sunday's NBC Meet the Press that included left-wing bomb-thrower Al Sharpton, host David Gregory worried: "Where has civility gone in politics?" He declared the source of incivility: "I talked to John Lewis, the civil rights leader, recently, who said he does think there's something particular, if it's racism or something else, about Obama that brings out a level of hatred." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

The entire discussion focused on recent comments by Rush Limbaugh but completely ignored Sharpton's history of offensive remarks as well as the vile insults continually hurled from million-dollar Obama donor Bill Maher. The most Gregory could manage was this vague observation: "And let's be clear, there are plenty of pundits and others on the Left who use, you know, inflammatory and corrosive language."

Leading off the panel topic, Gregory held up President Obama as the model of civility: "We had this moment this week, of the President at the press conference talking about why he called Sandra Fluke after Limbaugh had attacked her. And he was doing it for his daughters, he said. And it brought up this question of where civility has gone in our public discourse, in our political discourse, in the campaign and in Congress."

For his part, Sharpton called on people to be "mature" and not to "poison the atmosphere." He struck a somewhat remorseful tone in brief reference to his own conduct over the years: "I learned that in my own development. I used to say things that I really believed any kind of way I felt them....As my two daughters got older I started worrying about what I was saying because they would question me. It's not cute to just exacerbate things."

Gregory came close to being introspective about the media fueling incivility, but decided to just the blame the American public: "But do we as voters celebrate the friction too much?" Replace the word "voters" with "journalists" and the statement would be far more accurate.

Pushing back on Gregory's fawning over Obama caling Fluke, conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan pointed out: "I wish the President had had a real Sister Souljah moment and not just called someone with whom he was politically sympathetic, who deserved his sensitivity, but said, 'Wait a second, guys, left, right, and center, it's getting horrible for women now. Let's stop it.'"

Liberal Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne shot back: "I wish Mitt Romney had had a Sister Souljah moment in this case because what Rush Limbaugh said, it wasn't just that he called her awful names, he said she should put sex tapes up to reward us."

Dionne then exclaimed: "But, you know, the best line on civility was John Kennedy's when he said 'civility is not a sign of weakness.'" Yes, JFK was very civil when took sexual advantage of a 19-year-old White House intern and forced her to perform oral sex on one of his advisors.


Here is a portion of the March 11 exchange:

10:30AM TEASE

DAVID GREGORY: Finally, our political roundtable is here to talk politics and about something else, civility. Where has it gone and can it return? Why the President called Sandra Fluke after Rush Limbaugh attacked.  He was thinking about his own daughters.

BARACK OBAMA: I want them to be able to speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way.  And I don't want them attacked for – or called horrible names because they're being good citizens.                
        
GREGORY: We'll discuss it this morning with the Reverend Al Sharpton, host of MSNBC's Politics Nation; Tennessee Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn; The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne; and The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan.

11:05AM TEASE

GREGORY: Coming up, in the wake of the heated rhetoric during the birth control debate, President Obama this week made a plea for civility with his daughters in mind. Where has civility gone in politics? And what are the costs, not just to our political debates, but to the country at large?

(...)

11:14AM SEGMENT

GREGORY: Let me talk about something bigger, as I've been alluding to throughout the program. We had this moment this week, of the President at the press conference talking about why he called Sandra Fluke after Limbaugh had attacked her. And he was doing it for his daughters, he said. And it brought up this question of where civility has gone in our public discourse, in our political discourse, in the campaign and in Congress. Olympia Snowe talked about how polarizing Congress is as the reason she wants to leave.

Reverend, you talked about it when you were down South this week in Montgomery during your march. This was one of the points that you made that had such resonance. I'll play it.

SHARPTON:  We're not each other's enemies, we're not each other's competition, we are not each other's adversary. If we lock arms like we did coming down Highway 80 and cooperate rather than compete, we can make America work for everybody.

GREGORY: A Democrat saying that, it could be a Republican as well. It's a – it's a very important message. How does it ultimately resonate?

AL SHARPTON: I think the problem is that we've got to be mature enough to say we can be passionate and we can have some firm feelings, but that we don't have to poison the atmosphere.  And I learned that in my own development. I used to say things that I really believed any kind of way I felt them. Ironically, the President mentioned his two daughters. As my two daughters got older I started worrying about what I was saying because they would question me. It's not cute to just exacerbate things. You could be right and do it wrong, or say it wrong.  And I think that that would be the appeal that I would make, that yes, be passionate – I still march, I still protest – but don't get in the way of your message.  And the ultimate goal should be to bring people together in the country to make progress. Even if we disagree how, we don't have to be disagreeable.

GREGORY: But do we as voters celebrate the friction too much?

MARSHA BLACKBURN [REP. R-TN]: I think that what we have to remember is what was just said, learn to agreeably disagree to make your point, because when the rhetoric gets too loud it's like I was saying, voters are saying, "Don't yell at me, listen to me, and give me the facts." They want to be well informed and they're seeking to be well informed. That's why you've seen the rise of so many grassroots organizations. And quite frankly, I think it speaks to E.J.'s point of why the pundits are wrong so much now. Because the American people are going directly to sources, getting their information and they want us to respect them. And respect that they give us the opportunity to represent them. I seek to honor that in everything I do every day.

GREGORY: You know, I talked to John Lewis, the civil rights leader, recently, who said he does think there's something particular, if it's racism or something else, about Obama that brings out a level of hatred. And let's be clear, there are plenty of pundits and others on the Left who use, you know, inflammatory and corrosive language.

PEGGY NOONAN: Yeah.

GREGORY: Is there something different now, Peggy?

NOONAN: I'll tell you how I see it. I think one of the big problems with discourse in America is the way – forget left and right for a second – it's the way women are being spoken of, women in public life, women in politics, women in policy questions. It seems to me that women who have been rising to positions of authority the past 20 years rose at the same time as the Internet and the Internet was a sort of wild west where anything could be said. And I think it came on to actually infect our, our entertainment life, our political life, our journalistic life, what is said on radio by commentators and comedians.

And I think somebody has to stop and notice this sounds like a horrible misogynistic war on women. We have got to stop it. I feel like the grown-ups have to step in. I wish the President had had a real Sister Souljah moment and not just called someone with whom he was politically sympathetic, who deserved his sensitivity, but said, "Wait a second, guys, left, right, and center, it's getting horrible for women now. Let's stop it."

GREGORY:  Hm.

E.J. DIONNE: You know, when you – I wish Mitt Romney had had a Sister Souljah moment in this case because what Rush Limbaugh said, it wasn't just that he called her awful names, he said she should put sex tapes up to reward us.

NOONAN: Oh...

DIONNE: And what kind of – it was wild.  But, you know, the best line on civility was John Kennedy's when he said "civility is not a sign of weakness."

(...)

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC