LA dispatch Patriots attack media amid cries of treason
Flags have been lowered, accusations of treason made, and TV shows placed under threat in a censorship furore that is sweeping the US, writes Duncan Campbell
Wednesday October 3, 2001
Just as the war-or-no-war debate has been conducted over the internet in ways perhaps not always reflected in the mainstream media, so, too, is the debate over patriotism and what it now means. It started, as has been reported now at some length, with the television show Politically Incorrect.
To recap, comedian Bill Mayer, the host of the LA-based ABC network chat show, had on September 17 as his guest the writer and political commentator Dinesh D'Souza, who had taken issue with President Bush's frequent references to the terrorists as "cowards". Mayer agreed, saying: "We have been cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly."
Initially, the remarks went almost unnoticed but Dan Patrick, a talk show host in Houston, Texas, had heard them and the next morning launched an attack on Maher, telling listeners to call FedEx and Sears, two of the advertisers on the show, to express their outrage.
Sears noted the calls coming in from Texas, looked at tapes of the show and the transcripts and pulled their ads. FedEx have done the same.
Maher has since apologised for offending people and said that his attack was not on the American armed forces but on politicians who make the military decisions.
A campaign is under way to have him sacked and the show closed down, and this has led to a counter-campaign in Maher's support headed by the writer and former Republican Arianna Huffington, who was another guest on the show. Her website, ariannaonline.com, has now received more than 10,000 emails in Maher's support, she said. Only a few 100 wanted him sacked, she said.
Ms Huffington, author of How to Overthrow the Government, said that open discussion about September 11 was already inhibited.
"The worst side of this is the self-censorship, what people do not say," said Ms Huffington. "I'm all in favour of being very respectful but that doesn't mean there should be no dissent." The attack on Maher, she said, could be a sign of what could lie in store: "A lot of people are saying it is the beginning of a very slippery slope."
The ABC news anchor, Peter Jennings, received more than 10,000 emails after making the following remarks on air: "The country looks to the president on occasions like this to be reassuring to the nation. Some presidents do it well, some presidents don't."
Rightwing talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, alerted his listeners, suggesting that Jennings had questioned the president's character and the emails were launched.
Students who have already started demonstrating - 150 campuses took part in anti-war protests last weekend - have been effectively accused of treason in advertisements taken out in student papers.
Behind the ads is David Horowitz, the former radical turned conservative commentator, who caused a stir on campuses earlier this year with ads attacking the reparation movement in the US.
The current ads, which appear in full on the internet on FrontPagemagazine.com, state: "If I have one regret from my radical years, it is that this country was too tolerant towards the treason of its enemies within.
"If patriotic Americans had been more vigilant in the defence of their country, if they had called things by their right names, if they had confronted us with the seriousness of our attacks, they might have caught the attention of those of us who were well-meaning but utterly misguided.
"And they might have stopped us in our tracks. This appeal is for those of you who are out there today attacking your country, full of your own self-righteousness, but who one day might also live to regret what you have done."
Some public figures have already taken pre-emptive action. Barbra Streisand's website, barbrastreisand.com has removed many items critical of President Bush. She said the removals were made "in an effort to encourage national unity instead of partisan divisions".
People who are not public figures have also felt the necessity to fly the flag, either literally or metaphorically. School superintendent Louis Ripatrazone in Roxbury, New Jersey, rescinded his order to remove "God Bless America" from school signs because he felt that a religious reference might be offensive to some at school. After angry protests, he changed his mind.
In Fort Myers, Florida, the head librarian at Florida Gulf Coast University apologised for ordering employees to remove "Proud to be an American" stickers to avoid offending foreign students. University president William Merwin rescinded the order after protests and commented: "Patriotism on campus is welcomed."
Muslim, Arab and Sikh stores and cab drivers in New York and LA all prominently display the flag. At an anti-war demonstration in LA last Saturday, which attracted about 5,000 people, protesters carried signs reading "being for peace is patriotic" while anti-anti-war demonstrators on the other side of the street held signs saying "God bless America".