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Neither Smart nor Decent ...
Bill O'Reilly isn't the only one who's been characterized as an accomplice to murder. So have I.
By now, Bill's case has been well publicized. About a nanosecond after Dr. George Tiller was shot dead in his Wichita, Kansas church, the barrage began - on the web, in newspapers and on television: O'Reilly's crusade against Dr. Tiller for performing late term abortions created an atmosphere that he surely should have known would lead to violence, is how the argument went.
And then there was the murder I supposedly encouraged. A few years back I wrote a book called 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, which was about people who in my view were, well, screwing up America. There were the left-wing academics who blamed America for the attacks on 9/11; there were gangsta rappers who cheapened the culture with their nasty and violent lyrics; there were members of the dopey Hollywood ditz-ocracy who couldn't say the words "President Bush" without tacking on "moron" or "fascist" someplace close by.
It turns out that a man in Tennessee read my book and decided he wanted to kill all the liberals in it, but since he couldn't actually do that he found a liberal-leaning church in Knoxville and figured he'd kill a couple of people there - which, tragically, he did.
And it didn't take long for the same gang that went after Bill O'Reilly to go after me. One headline on the web, in great big type, shouted: "Bernard Goldberg the Inspiration for Cold Blooded Murder." A column in the Huffington Post said that I (and others on the Right) engage in "violent and hateful speech" aimed at those with whom I disagree. Another Huffington Post piece said, "Those on the far right wing fringe [I was mentioned by name as part of that "fringe" ] use dangerously violent rhetoric to get a point across [and] ... this rhetoric condones and even encourages utter hatred."
I'll let the other "right wing fringe" characters speak for themselves, but in my case there's just one problem: There's not a word in my book that would incite a normal person to violence. Not a syllable! And any honest critic would surely know that if he had taken the time to read the book before blaming me for inspiring the murders at that church in Tennessee. The key word, of course, is "honest."
Those of us on the Right who comment on controversial issues have come to expect this kind of treatment from the angry Left. For me, it's nothing more than mildly annoying - if that. But what troubles me more than the cheap shots is how shallow, how thoughtless and how unintelligent the criticism is, especially when there's a real need for a serious discussion.
Here's what I mean: In a democracy like ours, discussion of important issues isn't a luxury, it's a necessity - whether the issues involve the size of government, taxes, foreign policy, the state of the culture or abortion. Do the left-wing critics who believe that my writing creates an atmosphere that leads to murder think I should pledge not to comment on important issues because there might be a lone psychopath out there somewhere in a nation of more than 300 million people who will read my words and then go out and do something terrible?
As I say there is nothing in my book that would incite a normal person to violence. As for the deranged portion of our population, any one of those psychopaths could read a recipe on a box of Betty Crocker cake mix and go out and shoot somebody. Would liberals be in favor of locking up crazy people before they commit a crime - because they might? I don't think so. In any case, it is not a good idea to let lunatics set the ground rules for what we can and can't talk about.
But the bloggers and columnists and the strange guy who thinks he's Ed Murrow on MSNBC don't consider any of that. Instead, they are content simply to bellow that people like O'Reilly and me are hateful, that we rub our hands together, smirk, and wait for the mayhem against our supposed enemies. This is neither smart nor decent.
Would these same critics blame Jodie Foster for taking a role in Taxi Driver because a deranged fan saw the movie, fell in love with her and decided to try to kill President Reagan just to impress her? Ms. Foster did nothing to encourage the assassination attempt. Crazy people do crazy things for a million crazy reasons.
Bill O'Reilly believes his critics don't really want an honest discussion of the issues. He believes they simply want to shut down speech from just about anybody with a high profile with whom they disagree. That's what I think, too.