MSNBC Guest Equates Jerry Falwell Suing Hustler to Paris Attack

On Wednesday's Now With Alex Wagner on MSNBC, Eric Bates raised the specter of censorship by Christian conservatives during a panel discussion on the past Muslim backlash against Charlie Hebdo magazine – the target of an Islamic terrorist attack in Paris earlier in the day. Bates, a former executive editor for Rolling Stone magazine, cited Jerry Falwell's lawsuit against porn magazine Hustler in the 1980s as an apparent example of "religious fundamentalists of all stripes and of nationalities have this penchant to say, we want to be able tell you what you can and can't portray." [video below]

The left-wing guest, who now works for Glenn Greenwald's First Look Media project, outlined that Falwell "sued Hustler magazine for portraying him having – I believe it was drunken incest with his mother in an outhouse – again, in a visual form – and won a $150,000 court case against Hustler for that. It was overturned by the Supreme Court, I think, eight-to-zero."

Bates continued with his "religious fundamentalists" point. However, Bates left out the fact that the Christian minister's litigation wasn't based on a religious objection to Hustler's inflammatory portrayal, but on libel and emotional distress. Also, one wonders if the editor objects to his ideological fellow travelers trying to "tell you what you can and can't portray" in their jihads against the Robertson and Duggar families' reality programs, Duck Dynasty and 19 Kids and Counting.

Host Alex Wagner responded to Bates's point by wondering if "Islam...is a third rail, in a way – that you can show, sort of, blasphemous...drawings of the Pope. Charlie Hebdo was an equal-opportunity slanderer or satirist...in terms of religion. And yet, we focus very specifically on Islam, because it is much more incendiary and much more controversial to talk about."

Guest Rick MacArthur of Harper's magazine replied to Wagner by blaming the "huge American troop presence in the Middle East, and an insertion of American power in the Middle East that never existed before....there is a sense of grievance in the Muslim world today that didn't exist twenty years ago – before the United States sent troops to Saudi Arabia."

The transcript of the relevant portion of the Bates/MacArthur segment from Tuesday's Now With Alex Wagner on MSNBC:

ERIC BATES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, FIRST LOOK MEDIA: I think we also have to remember that this isn't just Islamic extremism. If you go back to the '80s – during the Reagan administration – when Jerry Falwell sued Hustler magazine for portraying him having – I believe it was drunken incest with his mother in an outhouse – again, in a visual form – and won a $150,000 court case against Hustler for that. It was overturned by the Supreme Court, I think, eight-to-zero. So, you know, religious fundamentalists of all stripes and of nationalities have this penchant to say, we want to be able tell you what you can and can't portray.

ALEX WAGNER: And yet, Islam is – because of the age of terror in which we live, occupies – is a third rail, in a way, that you can show, sort of, blasphemous photos or drawings – not photos, but drawings of the Pope. Charlie Hebdo was an equal-opportunity slanderer or satirist – whatever you want to call it – in terms of religion. And yet, we focus very specifically on Islam, because it is much more incendiary and much more controversial to talk about.

RICK MACARTHUR, HARPER'S MAGAZINE: Well, it happens to be right now because of a huge American troop presence in the Middle East, and an insertion of American power in the Middle East that never existed before. This is a political/foreign policy question that we could talk about. I mean, I want to keep the – the principle of freedom of expression separate. But there is a sense of grievance in the Muslim world today that didn't exist twenty years ago – before the United States sent troops to Saudi Arabia.

WAGNER: And a presence that looks like – shows little sign of abating any time soon-

MACARTHUR: Correct-

WAGNER: We, unfortunately, have to leave it there.

[H/t: User @mamaswati on Twitter.]

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center