CNN's Lemon: Helms 'Champion of the Extreme Right'
LEMON: Conservatives are mourning the death of an icon. Former Senator Jesse Helms has died at the age of 86. The North Carolina Republican was known for his unyielding stands on some controversial issues.
LEMON (voice-over): Ever since he came to the Senate in 1972, Jesse Helms had been the champion of the extreme right. His positions frequently infuriated virtually everyone else.
JESSE HELMS, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Homosexuals, disgusting people, march in our streets demanding all sorts of things.
LEMON: The American Conservative Union recently gave Helms a 100 percent rating. The American Civil Liberties Union, zero. And no wonder why. On social issues, Helms was a scourge of those he ridiculed as pointy-headed liberals; whether the question was AIDS, abortion, school prayer or funding for the arts.
HELMS: And if others (ph) want to go in a men's room and write dirty words on the wall, let them furnish their own crayons. Let them furnish their own wall. But don't ask the taxpayers to support it.
LEMON: Helms put up massive walls in foreign policy as well. Time after time, he used his ranking position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to block appointment and policies he considered deviations from right-wing true faith. He's courtly southern demeanor camouflaged the reality that Helms was a brutally affected (effective?) political fighter willing to do whatever it took to win.
In his last campaign, he had a tough campaign against a black Democrat. Helms's victory was partially credited to a last minute campaign commercial that many critics called blatantly racist.
Lemon cites Helms's low rating from the American Civil Liberties Union and a high rating from the American Conservative Union (ACU) to support his contention of extremism. Yet politicians scoring the reverse aren't characterized by CNN as extreme liberals. Examples include the late Senator Paul Wellstone, described by CNN national correspondent Frank Buckley as "the progressive Democrat here from Minnesota," and Congressman Neil Abercrombie from Hawaii, called "a progressive Democrat" by CNN Congressional correspondent Dana Bash.
Moreover, Lemon's claim that the ACU "recently gave Helms a 100 percent rating" isn't likely as the late Senator retired more than five years ago.
Lemon mentions a controversial commercial "in his last campaign." Presumably, that is the famous - or infamous if you prefer - "Hands" ad that centered on affirmative action's impact. That commercial wasn't run during Helms's last campaign, but rather in the 1990 one.
Lemon says that "Helms was a scourge of those he ridiculed as pointy-headed liberals." Pointy-headed was a term often employed by the late Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who railed against ""pointy-headed intellectuals who can't park their bicycles straight." Obviously, I can't assert that Jesse Helms never used the pointy headed device, but a quick check of the Newsbank database doesn't show it if he did.
Mainstream media reaction to the Senator's passing is about what I would have expected. After all, here was a man routinely condemned when he was alive.
A Washington Post article in 1990 claimed he “may be the nation’s most notorious lawmaker.” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer described him as “the leading symbol of the radical right in the U.S. Senate.” The Dayton Daily News printed a caricature depicting the senator holding a can of spray paint in front of a swastika. The following day the newspaper tolerantly reported that its editorial board didn’t consider Helms a Nazi after all and apologized.
His early days in the Senate must have been difficult ones. His was a minority voice in a Senate and there were many legislative setbacks. But as Andrew Jackson observed, “One man with courage makes a majority.” That man with courage stayed thirty years and, eventually, had a striking impact on the United States of America.
The mainstream media - even CNN - owe their consumers an accurate evaluation of Jesse Helms.