To: Howard Kurtz, Washington Post
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Slandering Pat Buchanan
I noticed you had Jake Tapper of Salon.com as one of your guest journalists on CNN's Reliable Sources over the weekend. It was noteworthy for a show discussing the negative campaigning in the presidential race, because a few days earlier I saw a Tapper piece that referred casually to Pat Buchanan's "outbursts of anti-Semitism." I wrote him a note asking for his citations of such "outbursts" of anti-Semitism, but have not heard back from him as yet, as he is no doubt poring over his pile of outbursts looking for Pat's. I know we go around and around on this, Howard, but I recommend you devote a show to these kinds of off-hand slanders. I've known Buchanan for 30 years and have never heard him utter an anti-Semitic word and do not believe he has an anti-Semitic bone in his body. Yet he has been so reviled as a bigot by various Jewish journalists and opinion leaders who object to SOME of his POLITICAL views that fellows like Tapper plug in "outbursts of anti-Semitism" next to his name without realizing he has written and spoke tens of millions of words in Washington as a print and electronic journalist -- and there is nothing in that record that holds up as being anti-Semitic.
Today, we get another example of this off-hand slander from Thomas L. Friedman, the Pulitzer Prizewinning "Foreign Affairs" columnist of the NYTimes. Friedman writes about Austria's Jörg Haidar -- [H]e's a neo-Nazi and a high-tech free-marketer, an advocate of the Waffen SS and the flat tax. He's Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes." If I were editor of the NYT, I would fine Friedman $2,000 and suspend him from pay for the first month of the new pundit season. The Times, though, puts up with this kind of garbage, as long as it agrees with the target of demonization.
Four years ago, I got so disgusted with the news media for their behavior following Pat's victory in the New Hampshire primary that I decided to collect the garbage said and written about him by supposedly blue-chip journalists. The Forbes Media Critic still was being published and I wrote a relatively lengthy report for it called "Cheap Shots." It appeared in the Summer 1996 issue, after Pat had ceased to be a threat to the establishment, having been stopped by Bob Dole in South Carolina. This political season hardly began when Buchanan's new book, A Republic, Not an Empire, was being cited in the media as an apology for Adolf Hitler, arguing the Nazi leader was no threat to the United States and we should not have gone to war with Germany. The book actually said nothing of the kind and I wrote a long report for this website pointing out that Buchanan's view of that history was almost identical to Winston Churchill's. No matter: I sent copies out to dozens of old friends and acquaintances in the news business, but it made no difference. It was another "outburst of anti-Semitism."
I'd like you to chew this over, Howard, because there is every likelihood that Buchanan will be the Reform Party candidate this year, in a three-way race with the major parties. He already has been slandered again by William Safire of the NYTimes, who in 1996 said on "Meet the Press" that on an ascending scale of anti-Semitism from one to ten, with 10 as Hitler, he placed Buchanan between four and five. Joe Sobran of the Washington Times admirably defended Pat and referred to Safire's "Führermeter." The Wall Street Journal editorial page gave Norman Podhoretz unparalleled space in a shameful, hate-filled screed that really rested on Buchanan's willingness to defend men accused of being Nazi killers, even though he was proven right and the lives of the innocent men were spared by Jewish tribunals!!! If you put together a panel of working journalists to consider this topic as the campaign unfolds, I recommend Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe, a liberal who had the grit to reprimand his fellow liberals: "For liberals to be silent simply because this filth is being directed at a creature of the Right who happens to be on a roll is intolerable." Here is the manuscript I sent to the MediaCritic. The Editors shortened it slightly for space reasons, but I think you should read the full-length version as follows.
By Jude Wanniski Forbes Media Critic, Summer 1996.
A standard caricature of the unscrupulous politician is the one in which he is seen posing the question to his opponent "Have you stopped beating your wife?" No matter how much the opponent asserts that he is not a wife-beater, the question carries enough venom to put him at a disadvantage. Such was the case early this with Republican presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan, and those who attempted to defend him against charges of anti-Semitism. Indeed, we were forced to note that It is becoming increasingly difficult to defend political figures against charges of bigotry or anti-Semitism without being accused of anti-Semitism. The topic is one worth exploring here.
In most cases, we rely on the media to set the record straight, to expose and chastise the politician who plays that kind of vile and poisonous card and to come to the defense of the candidate being so smeared. Perhaps we tend to be a bit jaded during political races, overlooking as "partisan politics" some of the more egregiously outrageous charges hurled back and forth among the candidates. After all, "that's politics," we might say, dismissing the damage this does to the body politic. And, anyway, the media will set the record straight. That is the way it is supposed to work among people of good will, isn't it? Well, normally it does -- which is why it is disappointing and even worrisome to come across situations where the media not only fail do come to the defense of the candidate so slandered, but instead join the mob in retailing and advancing the same slanders. Something very much akin to this has occurred with the media treatment of Pat Buchanan.
At the same time, however, there is an insidious dimension to the campaign against Pat Buchanan that has gone beyond the hardball but marginally "acceptable" efforts to label him an extremist figure. In their presidential races, both Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan faced no less absurd charges, with Reagan successfully running the gauntlet. Mr. Buchanan is a big boy capable of taking care of himself in the most rough and tumble of debates. What dismayed me is the level of calumny directed at him by senior figures of the media Establishment, which reached an hysterical pitch after he won the New Hampshire primary.
Buchanan has been labeled everything from a racist, homophobic, woman-bashing, Nazi-loving, fascist bigot to the new Adolph Hitler. To most of those of us who have known him for almost 30 years, there is no truth in any of the slanders. As a political journalist identified with the right wing of the GOP, he invites such suspicions by being both passionate and recklessly honest in making his private views public. His ideological adversaries infer dark and ugly motives as a means of discrediting perfectly reasonable positions he takes that are well within the bounds of legitimate public discourse.
It has been the effort to identify him as a virulent anti-Semite that has been the ugliest of all the charges. No matter that he ardently denies this equivalent of wife-beating, men who have taken leave of their usual reason have called upon the Republican party to repudiate him, to declare him unfit to participate as a contender in the party's presidential primary. The conservative movement has been advised to drum him out of its ranks, and the media have been enjoined to eschew giving him any respectable coverage. He is an anti-Semite, the argument runs, ipso facto he should be deprived of any coverage unless it be to expose his unfitness to participate in the political debates of the human race.
This is precisely what was demanded by Norman Podhoretz, former editor of Commentary magazine, in a Weekly Standard screed of 3-11-96, "Anti-Semitism and a Presidential Candidacy." Candidate Buchanan, he warns, "is an anti-Semite, which means that for conservatives to remain silent about it while opposing him only because he is a protectionist and an isolationist is inescapably to suggest that anti-Semitism is of no great importance as compared with these other issues....what he deserves -- and what the honor of the conservative movement demands -- is that his anti-Semitism be taken seriously and that he be disqualified as a candidate because of it and because of it alone."
Norman Podhoretz's son, John, an editor at The Weekly Standard, took his father's indictment to Europe and there puts words in Buchanan's mouth that convict him. This scandalous exercise took place in the April 1996 issue British monthly Prospect, "Previous Convictions," where the junior Podhoretz characterizes Buchanan as a raging demagogue. His populist championing of the cause of the little guy doesn't make him a conventional anti-Semite, writes John Podhoretz, but when Buchanan rhetorically asks "And who was behind all the troubles?" guess what. "The answer came to Buchanan as it comes to most demagogues: Jews." This is bad stuff, Mr. Podhoretz.
It was A.M. Rosenthal, the former executive editor of The New York Times and now a regular columnist who "led" many of us, the senior Podhoretz reveals, to openly charge Mr. Buchanan with anti-Semitism after his assertion that "the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States" were the primary drum beaters in the U.S. for war in the Middle East. As Podhoretz puts it, "...there was no mistaking Buchanan's message here: The Jews were proposing to send non-Jewish American kids to die for the sake of Israel in a war that nobody else wanted."
For Rosenthal and Podhoretz, the term "anti-Semitism" clearly has evolved to the point where it describes anyone who questions Israel's unique relationship with the U.S. This is really the nub of my complaints about their tirades against Buchanan. I've never heard Buchanan utter a bigoted word about Judaism or the Jewish people. Nor has Michael Kinsley, one of the most intelligent Jewish liberals in the American press corps, who worked across the table from Buchanan for many years on CNN's Crossfire. In recent years, Kinsley took the trouble to refute A.M. Rosenthal's assertions of anti-Semitism by Pat Buchanan, which is a major reason they did not take hold until Buchanan won the New Hampshire primary. Suddenly, though, it was as if Buchanan had became the American pretender for the mantle of Der Fuhrer.
He made the covers of U.S. News & World Report, Time, Newsweek, The New Republic, New York, and the British weekly Economist. The more charitable accounts portrayed him as a 90's-style populist in the tradition of Huey Long or George Wallace, with streaks of Joe McCarthy and Fr. Charles Coughlin laced in. Among the more outrageous was the statement by New York Times columnist William Safire, who told the audience of NBC's Meet the Press that Buchanan falls somewhere between four or even five on the Safire ascending one-to-ten scale of anti-Semites -- with Hitler at ten. In his Washington Times column March 2, Joseph Sobran, who steadfastly defended Buchanan against the frenzied charges of bigotry, referred to Safire's scale as a "Fuhrermeter."
We have to forgive a certain amount of opinion from columnists that presses right up against the limits of fairness and decent taste, especially when the most important job on earth is at stake. We can also appreciate the sensitivity of Jewish columnists to early warning signals of anti-Semitism, as they are conscious of the history of those German and American Jews who did not make much fuss about Hitler's anti-Semitism during his ascent to power. One cannot atone for such lapses by mugging an innocent man. Yes, Buchanan has to answer for the circumstantial evidence they present, the "code words" they insist he uses in order to make sly appeals to the anti-Semitic vote -- reciting the Jewish surnames responsible, he argued, for the taxpayer bailout of investors in Mexico, for example. Yet there has been nothing in Buchanan's voluminous record presented as slurring as, say, Jesse Jackson's reference to New York City as "Hymietown." It should also count for something that Buchanan not only denies charges of anti-Semitism, but also accuses those who make the charge of slander. The tirades of A.M. Rosenthal, Frank Rich and William Safire at The New York Times, and Charles Krauthammer and Richard Cohen at The Washington Post, though, seemed to fuel each other in going beyond the bounds of acceptable editorial opinion. George Will of Newsweek piled on as well.
Their columns set the stage for the February 23, 1996 episode of ABC News Nightline with Ted Koppel, "Hometown Boy." Ostensibly organized around the question of why candidate Buchanan failed to dismiss or at least censure an aide who appeared at an assembly in which minorities were subject to verbal assault, the program quickly degenerated into an attack on Buchanan's integrity. Koppel sat silently and allowed a rabbi to imply that the Buchanan presidential campaign is an effort to take America backward on the "race question...on the Jewish question...[on] the Nazi question." The episode then danced very close to indulging an anti-Catholic bias, implying that anti-Semitism was tolerated if not encouraged by Buchanan's Catholic school in the 1940s and 1950s. It was also reported that Buchanan's father was an avid listener and supporter of Fr. Charles Coughlin, the radio priest (censured by his own church) accused of anti-Semitism during the Roosevelt Administration, despite Patrick Buchanan's insistence to the contrary. A former Jewish neighbor of the family was quoted as verifying that the Buchanan boys (although not Pat) used to beat him up, calling him Christ-killer. Koppel did also present another Jewish neighbor who described being upset to hear such things alleged when he had never experienced them ever. As with the he-kicks-his-dog, abuses-his-kids, and beats-his-wife charge, one can keep the charge alive even while appearing to back off of it. Koppel employed the technique with the qualification that "It's not that Pat Buchanan today is associated with overtly anti-Semitic or racist acts or statements, but rather that he has created an image of someone who might be sympathetic to such acts or statements by others." Lest anyone give Buchanan the benefit of doubt, though, Koppel later links Buchanan as an ideological soulmate of the Russian political leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, quoting the Russian's remarks about Israeli dominance of America's Congress and finances "through American Jews or Negroes."
Several Catholic journalists objected to the anti-Catholicism in the coverage, but along the mushy line proposed by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne: Say what you will about Patrick Buchanan, just don't "link all of Buchanan's views, prejudices and predilections to his Catholic background." The sharpest defense of Buchanan among liberal commentators was from Tom Oliphant, columnist for the liberal Boston Globe, who agrees with Buchanan only rarely on issues of public policy. Oliphant forthrightly criticized his colleagues for aiding and abetting the campaign to portray the candidate as a bigot: "For liberals to be silent simply because this filth is being directed at a creature of the Right who happens to be on a political roll is intolerable."
The effort to link Buchanan to professed racists and anti-Semites was not restricted to ABC. The February 28, 1996, CBS Evening News report opened with a Buchanan for president rally in Georgia, segued into a David Duke spot followed by an interview with a Ku Klux Klan member who is quoted saying that "just about everything [Buchanan] says we agree with....When he is talking about affirmative action, he has to be talking about women and niggers." On CNN, at least Frank Sesno on Inside Politics took the trouble of asking Buchanan directly why his campaign seems to attract neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic groups. Buchanan replied evenly: "Maybe it's because so many people in the press hang those labels on me," even though he said he does everything he can think of to distance himself from them.
Except for Safire's "Fuhrermeter," NBC's performance was under better control. In its March 3 Meet the Press, in which Tim Russert interviewed Patrick Buchanan, we were treated to a professional give-and-take. Russert did not pull punches, and the end result was a wide-ranging informative picture of candidate Buchanan. Russert also raised the question of anti-Catholic bigotry by some media in its coverage of the Buchanan campaign to which the candidate gave a very gracious and generous reply: "Well the press has treated me very fairly. The national press has, by and large, treated me fairly. The New York Times has given me tremendous exposure for my views and ideas...I am not going to criticize the press at this time. And I have no reason to criticize them. But there was a nasty piece of vile anti-Catholic bigotry done by Ted Koppel on ‘Nightline,' which assaulted and slandered and lied about my father and about my family and about my faith....Mr. Koppel let the mask of urbanity drop for a moment when he put that piece on, and so did ABC News....it was based on ignorance and malice."
Well, perhaps not malice. Because Buchanan has an enormous public record of speeches, utterances, columns, radio and television commentaries, it isn't hard to see why National Review's William F. Buckley would write three years ago that he found it "impossible to defend" Buchanan against charges of anti-Semitism. What he meant was that no matter how hard he tried to do so, the community of media opinion leaders who are Jewish had made up their minds. The paradox is that Buchanan throughout his career has been willing to defend people and policy positions which were unpopular in the Jewish community. Friends of his who have taken him at his word respect him for staking out that turf. Even though, like Tom Oliphant, we frequently disagree with his positions, we see him filling a legitimate role in the national discussion necessary to a healthy democracy.
In writing a defense such as this, one risks being accused of anti-Semitism, the prospects of a rational discussion on these issues seeming so remote. William Buckley, for example, has been taken off the "our friends" list by A.M. Rosenthal for having recently come to defense of Buchanan against the charges of anti-Semitism. The Times columnist continues to lambaste the GOP for not casting Buchanan out of the party, "Buchanan and the Fish," March 22, 1996. Richard Cohen demands the same response of the GOP, in his column "Stand-Back Guys," Washington Post Weekly, March 4, 1996: Buchanan is "a man who stands accused...of being a racist, homophobe, anti-semite [sic], nativist, sexist who turns civil libertarian only when Nazis are involved." Republicans are therefore obligated "to repudiate Buchanan." The editors of The Weekly Standard warn in "The Buchanan Challenge," 3-4-96, that the "deliberately demagogic....Buchanan campaign is, in fact, the most powerful anti-American voice this country has seen in two decades or more." The liberal columnist Joe Conason notes in his New Yorker Observer column of February 22, 1996, "The Buchanan Agenda: Call It ‘Fascism Lite," that "What is most troubling about his 1996 message is that it includes an appeal to unemployed workers and shopkeepers that is reminiscent of the early speeches of Hitler..." George Will resurrects the "are-you-sure-you-don't-beat-your-wife?" canard in his Newsweek column of March 4, 1996, "Conservatism Gets Soiled," repeating again the question of others to Buchanan "‘What have you done to generate such enthusiasm among the Nazis?'"
The media above all ought to know how to distinguish unverifiable assertions from actual evidence. By submitting to intimidation and becoming complicit in the great smear campaign, they are culpable of the worst crime of their profession -- cowardly retreat from honest and accurate reporting to the American people.