Here are some small reminders of a contrast in Senator-obituary news. On July 4 of last year, when Sen. Jesse Helms died, NBC reporter Martin Savidge didn’t find a "lion of the Senate," but an ultra-rightist and a bigot: "During his 30 years in the office, the North Carolina Senator was often controversial and always outspoken....An ultra-rightist, he was elected in the Republican landslide of 1972....In the ’90s, critics branded Helms a bigot for his racially-tinged ads which blasted affirmative action during a campaign against an African-American opponent."
All the networks noticed the 1990 ad. Will all the networks remember Kennedy's nasty "Robert Bork's America" speech? Brent Bozell offered a small fraction of rudeness and rejoicing on the left-wing blogs:
Perhaps unsurprisingly, liberals on the Internet made these old-media critiques look sedate. They didn’t see any need to observe any kind of civility, letting their rage and ill will erupt like a spewing volcano. The blog Wonkette featured the headline "See You In Hell: Jesse Helms Finally Dead." They cheered: "Jesse Helms was apparently still alive, and now he’s dead, hooray! He was a sour troll and a bigot, and it’s a testament to every rotten thing about this country that for a quarter century, he was one of the most powerful people in American politics."
Wonkette linked to Ken Layne on America Online’s Political Machine blog, whose headline was "Jesse Helms, American Garbage." Layne said Helms died "25 years too late," and he was "a mean little troll whose heart was so wrecked by wickedness that doctors had to patch it up with coronary valves from a pig."
The gossip site Gawker said being nice to Helms would be unthinkable, akin to saying "Hitler was kind to animals." Leftist blogger Phil Nelson summed it up for mean-spirited liberals with his headline: "Jesse Helms Is Finally Dead. Let’s Have a Cookout."
Brent also noted they cast Helms as a "Senator No," whose legacy was negative:
The Washington Post stressed Helms “rode his divisiveness to victory.” The New York Times obituary threw punches, describing him as the senator “whose courtly manner and mossy drawl barely masked a hard-edged conservatism that opposed civil rights, gay rights, foreign aid and modern art.”
The networks were no better. NBC’s Lester Holt blatantly copied the Times: “He staked out firm positions against everything from communism and foreign aid to civil rights and modern art.”
Clay Waters at TimesWatch captured the full negativity of the Times coverage back then. Finally, for those who might watch for Ed Schultz to complain about conservative meanness about Kennedy, let's recall how Helms was eulogized on the Ed Schultz radio show last year. Fill-in host Norman Goldman said this:
"That race-baiting, racist, horrible Jesse Helms ad got him ahead of Harvey Gantt and got him reelected in 1990. Harvey Gantt would have made a much better senator and Jesse Helms shamelessly played the race card. He was a miserable rat. The world's a better place without him. I hope he's down there in hell roasting with Jerry Falwell."