NPR Anchor Scolds Republican Over Excessive 'Gulag' Rhetoric, But Not Democrat's 'Klan' Gab

NPR demonstrated a shameless double standard in interviewing members of House of Representatives about the Tucson shooting on their evening newscast All Things Considered. On Tuesday, anchor Robert Siegel upbraided just-retired conservative Rep. John Shadegg for "over the top" rhetoric in using the word "gulag" to describe Obama's health care plan in the fall of 2009. But on Monday, Siegel interviewed liberal Rep. Jim Clyburn, and offered no scolding for extreme rhetoric, when Clyburn compared ObamaCare protesters to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War.

On Tuesday, Siegel pressed Shadegg to apologize, perhaps borrowing from the Democrat blog Think Progress

SIEGEL: But typically, people regard their opponents' rhetoric as extreme and their own as, you know, perhaps a bit strong but justified. You use the phrase to describe the Democrats' health care bill as full of Russian gulag, Soviet-style gulag health care. I mean, I think those of us who have read some Solzhenitsyn, I think you might concede that wasn't a literal comment that you were making. Perhaps it was, but over the top, possibly, a little extreme?

SHADEGG: Sure. It seems to me that sometimes you make a point, and you try to make it with emphasis, and perhaps you get carried away. I think we're all prone to that. And I think that if one of the lessons we can draw from this senseless shooting and the senseless deaths that occurred is that we need to ratchet back that rhetoric and focus more on arguments, on the merits. Name-calling really doesn't accomplish anything. That would be a good thing to come out of this incident.

SIEGEL: So perhaps the discussion, even if you don't agree with what it's implying about who's responsible for what, not an unhealthy discussion, I hear you saying.

SHADEGG: Well, yeah. I think over-the-top rhetoric engaged in by any politicians, right or left, is just that, over the top. And I think this is a call for us to strive toward greater civility in all of our dialogue.

Siegel had already pressed Shadegg to denounce as "beyond the pale" Sharron Angle's statement that "Americans angry with the state or the government might at some point resort to what she called Second Amendment remedies." Now compare that to Siegel's interview with Jim Clyburn the previous night. While Siegel pressed Clyburn that perhaps policing speech to remove "target" or military metaphors might inhibit free speech, he didn't scold Clyburn or quote him (or any other Democrat) saying something NPR found extreme. Instead, he seemed to honor Clyburn's history in a segregationist South: 

SIEGEL: Congressman Clyburn, I want to ask you to draw upon your own personal experience in your life. People are commonly saying that the political environment nationwide is today more vitriolic, more toxic than ever. You're an African-American from South Carolina, and you came up at a time when a black man who asserted himself could face really serious consequence. And there was nothing unusual about death threats at that time. Does this really compare to, say, the 1960s in South Carolina?

CLYBURN: Well, during the 1960s, we saw the cattle prods. We did see some murders and they were very, very unfortunate. But we didn't have the Internet back then. We had restraint on speech back then. I came up in a time that the Fairness Doctrine did not allow media outlets to say things about a candidate or a person in public office without giving that person equal time to respond.

Siegel easily could have looked up NewsBusters or liberal media outlets to find Clyburn's wild rhetoric. Here's what we highlighted from the Washington Post during the height of the Tea-Party-is-racist smears. Obama protesters were like the KKK:  "It reminds me of that period in our history right after Reconstruction," Clyburn said, "when South Carolina had a black governor and the political gains were lost because of vigilantism, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis