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Sunday, January 11, 2015

What We Can Learn From Bill Donohue’s Stupid Comments

What We Can Learn From Bill Donohue’s Stupid Comments

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Matt K. Lewis
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    • Matt K. Lewis

      Matt K. Lewis is a senior contributor to The Daily Caller, and a contributing editor for The Week. He is a respected commentator on politics and cultural issues, and has been cited by major publications such as The Washington Post and The New York Times. Matt is from Myersville, MD and currently resides in Alexandria, VA. Follow Matt K. Lewis on Twitter <a>@mattklewis</a>.
Yesterday, my friend and former colleague Hugh Hewitt destroyed Catholic League president Bill Donohue, over the latter’s recent statement, titled: “Muslims Are Right to Be Angry.” (The term “destroyed” is frequently bandied about in order to generate clicks, but in this case, I think it’s a fair description of the interview.)

So what did Donohue write that was so bad? After condemning the killings in France, Donohue wrote:
“Those who work at this newspaper have a long and disgusting record of going way beyond the mere lampooning of public figures, and this is especially true of their depictions of religious figures. For example, they have shown nuns masturbating and popes wearing condoms. They have also shown Muhammad in pornographic poses.
“… Stephane Charbonnier, the paper’s publisher, was killed today in the slaughter. It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death …”
By virtue of his title, Donohue ostensibly speaks on behalf of Catholics (but not really), and I suspect that’s part of the reason for the outrage. The post was also needlessly provocative; even the headline begged for attention and controversy.
Even more egregious, was that, as Hewitt scolded, Donohue “blamed the victim before their bodies were cold.”
So what can those of us who traffic in words and page views learn from this? For one, in a world where commentators are largely rewarded for speed, it is still the case that timing and context matter a great deal.

In the wake of a terrorist attack, if your immediate takeaway is to pen a contrarian “think” piece about a secondary issue, you should expect it to be viewed (at best) as a non sequitur. Waiting a day or so before raising and debating ancillary issues and esoteric questions is prudent.
Revealingly, perhaps, Donohue’s immediate take did not read like the first instinct of a decent, caring, person. And, no matter the merits of his argument, what you can not and should not do is immediately blame the victims. In so doing (even with the aforementioned caveat that he decries violence), Donohue’s priorities were shown to be clearly out of whack.
So here’s the deal I’ll make with him: I’ll get around to focusing on the people who draw dirty pictures AFTER WE GET RID OF THE PEOPLE TRYING TO KILL THOSE OF US WHO PRACTICE FREE EXPRESSION.
That’s not to say that, buried among the garbage, Donohue didn’t have an argument. The unfortunate thing is that he undermined an otherwise legitimate point of view. Fortunately, in the subsequent days, others have touched on this much more deftly. For example, the New York Times’ David Brooks calls Charlie Hebdo ”deliberately offensive humor,” Rod Dreher similarly avers: “No, We Are Not Charlie,” from the left, Slate notes that “Charlie Hebdo Is Heroic and Racist,” and, in an email, a conservative French friend (who emailed me privately, and, in no way, blames the victims) described Charlie Hebdo as
the most liberal and vulgar cartoon magazine you can get in France and you could imagine in the US. Anarchist, former communist, all sixty eighters (68ers for May 1968 generation). They had three main targets: policemen and military (but for a few years, most of them accepted to have the personal protection of the State), the Catholic Church and the patriots (described as retarded, racist…).
So where does that leave us? First, we can strive to learn something from Donohue, and to avoid his pratfall. Second, though, I think there is a middle ground for those of us who revere freedom of expression (especially for unpopular political speech) but also lament licentiousness. And — as is often the case — I think Ross Douthat got it just about right:
Must all deliberate offense-giving, in any context, be celebrated, honored, praised? I think not. But in the presence of the gun — or, as in the darker chapters of my own faith’s history, the rack or the stake — both liberalism and liberty require that it be welcomed and defended.

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