The Media Institute, a Washington-based non-profit, has called on Keith Olbermann to apologize for comparing one of its Jewish staff members to a Nazi collaborator.
During a January 21 screed regarding the controversial Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission -- in which the Supreme Court granted all companies the same rights as MSNBC's parent company GE -- Olbermann called the Media Institute's Floyd Abrams, a Jew, "the Quisling of freedom of speech in this country."
Vidkun Quisling, for those who don't know, was a Norwegian Nazi collaborator who aided in the Third Reich's conquest of his country by disclosing vital defense information to the Nazis. If Benedict Arnold had been complicit in genocide, we might consider Quisling his Norwegian equivalent.
The Media Institute wrote Olbermann an open letter yesterday calling on him to issue a public apology:
As members of The Media Institute’s First Amendment Advisory Council, we are writing to take strong issue with your “special comment” of January 21, 2010, in which you personally attacked one our members, the preeminent First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, for his role in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Just to be clear at the outset, we are not concerned about the fact that you expressed a strong opinion about a Supreme Court case that has generated a great deal of public comment and controversy. Quite to the contrary, we celebrate the fact that you are free to express your opinions without fear of government reprisal. Many of us admire the fact that you emerged as a prominent critic of federal policies at a time when many others were still trying to find their voices.
But our admiration stops when confronted with the type of personal invective that you heaped upon Mr. Abrams for the fact that he represented a client whose position you dislike in Citizens United…
Floyd Abrams is the foremost First Amendment advocate of our time. He also is Jewish. For any Jew to be compared to a Nazi collaborator is vile, but in the case of Floyd is simply beyond comprehension. But your offhanded inclusion of this ugly epithet points to a deeper problem that has degraded public discourse – the breakdown of civility…
Many of the freedoms you enjoy as a journalist exist because of the work of Floyd Abrams throughout his exemplary career. Yet even if Mr. Abrams had not blazed important paths for the rights of the press, he does not deserve to be personally insulted, which for you may have seemed like nothing more than a clever turn of phrase.
Of course, you have the right to say what you did in your “special comment.” None of us questions that, and each of us would be willing to defend against any attempt to suppress your speech. We do not doubt your rights – just your judgment. It does not endanger free expression to counsel self-control and civility.
Reasonable minds can differ on the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and we fully expect it will be just the beginning of a continuing contentious debate on campaign speech and regulation. We look forward to your contributions to that debate. But we also look forward to your public apology to Floyd Abrams for your unwarranted personal attack.
If Olbermann does apologize, don't be surprised if it sounds somewhat like his apology to Sen. Scott Brown.
Olbermann has left us no reason to believe he has any interest in contributing to the ongoing debate over free speech in this context. Godwin's law has become his modus operandi.