National Public Radio is right to defend itself against charges of Nazism leveled at the radio station by Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who has since apologized for the remark. But NPR decided to make the leap from defending the station to attacking Fox News as uniquely disposed to Nazi comparisons, an absurd claim on its face.
There are commentators on both sides of the political spectrum who routinely prove Godwin right. But being the predictably-liberal news outlet that it is, NPR invoked vague claims by far-left Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank (neither his ideological leanings nor the multitude of his most recent baseless Fox accusations are mentioned) to paint FNC as unique in its invocation of Nazism.
Beck and Ailes are by no means the first to call others Nazis. But Fox News does stand out amid mainstream media outlets for its ferocity and frequency in doing so. Milbank found Beck had referred to Hitler or Nazis on his Fox News program several hundred times.
No, Fox is not the first to do so. Commentators from a number of other media outlets have done so, including NPR's own Garrison Keillor. In a 2006 New York Times column, Keillor suggested that support for a bill that deemed suspected terrorists "enemy combatants" was tantamount to Nazism:
None of the men and women who voted for this bill has any right to speak in public about the rule of law anymore, or to take a high moral view of the Third Reich, or to wax poetic about the American Idea.
Keillor wrote of visiting George. W. Bush's church in Dallas:
The Methodists of Dallas can be fairly sure that none of them will be snatched off the streets, flown to Guantánamo, stripped naked, forced to stand for 48 hours in a freezing room with deafening noise, so why should they worry? It's only the Jews who are in danger, and the homosexuals and gypsies. The Christians are doing just fine.
Of course anyone with a memory span longer than two years remembers a host of such Nazi comparisons that did not emanate from Fox News. In fact, while MSNBC and New York Times commentators were certainly fond of painting the George W. Bush administration as frighteningly fascistic or Nazi-esque, those sorts of statements did not stop once Bush left office - there were still conservatives to smear, after all.
Perhaps the most frequent perpetrator the conservatives/Republicans-are-like-Nazis smear is MSNBC talker Keith Olbermann. Ironically, Olbermann singled out Ailes as his "Worst Person in the World" despite his own history of Nazi comparisons.
And Olbermann has made those comparisons plenty of times, as Johnny Dollar reminds us. First, of course, is this lovely picture of Olbermann giving a "Sieg Heil" Nazi salute as part of his strange impersonation of Bill O'Reilly. The obvious statement: O'Reilly is a Nazi.
The reliably-hypocritical Olbermann derided Glenn Beck's "Nazi tourette's" when the Fox News talker invoked the famous poem by German pastor Martin Niemoller "First They Came." Months later, Olbermann used the same poem in his own Nazi comparison.
And by Olbermann's account, it's not just Beck who's a Nazi, but the entirety of Fox News:
And two or three of these people who did call up and mention my name actually got phone calls from FOX security. Which is, you know, fascinating if, you know, we‘re living in, say, Nazi Germany.
On "Countdown," Fox News/Nazi comparisons abound, but it wasn't so long ago that Bush administration/Nazi comparisons were fixtures of the show as well.
After the Germans lost the First World War, it was the “back-stabbers and profiteers” at home, on whose lives the National Socialists rose to prominence in the succeeding decades and whose accused membership eventually wound up in torture chambers and death camps.... And now Mr. Bush, you have picked out your own Jefferson Davis, your own Dreyfus, your own “profiteer”.
When Bush left office, Olbermann had to search for other political targets to hit with the Nazi label - you know, people who disagreed with him, like, say, Jewish attorney Floyd Abrams:
Floyd Abrams, who has spent his life defending American freedoms, especially freedom of speech.... He will go down in the history books as the Quisling of freedom of speech in this country.
Not just a Nazi, but a traitorous saboteur to boot (Vidkun Quisling is basically the Norwegian equivalent of Benedict Arnold). That claim prompted demands for an apology from the Media Institute.
Olbermann is not the only MSNBC talker to regularly invoke Nazism against his ideological opponents. Ed Schultz: Rush Limbaugh is like Hitler, Tea Partiers are like Nazi "Brown Shirts", etc.
And then of course there's Chris Matthews, whose amazing hypocrisy on Nazi labels never ceases to amaze:
Clearly, NPR needs to reexamine its own assumptions about Fox's unique role in the political debate.
But neither are the Nazi comparisons confined to cable news. The New York Times has certainly tolerated quite a bit of it in recent years. Here's Times columnist Frank Rich comparing the Bush administration to the Third Reich:
Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those “good Germans” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’s good name.
Two years later, Rich managed to condemn the Tea Party for comparing others to Nazis, while simultaneously comparing the Tea Party to Nazis…all while ignoring his own amazing hypocrisy in invoking Nazi comparisons:
How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.
The Times also ran an ad (pdf) in 2005 explicitly comparing the Bush "regime" to the Third Reich:
People look at all this and think of Hitler—and they are right to do so. The Bush regime is setting out to radically remake society very quickly, in a fascist way, and for generations to come. We must act now; the future is in the balance.
The trouble with singling out a news outlet for these sorts of statements is that there are always commentators on both sides who make them. But NPR only seems interested in attacking Fox. If its response to Ailes's statement weren't based on an "analysis" by an ultra-partisan who just recently tried pushing a number of blatant falsehoods about Fox, it might be more accurate and intellectually honest.
But maybe that's not what NPR was going for.