Following up on his piece last week on Ann Coulter, Darrell Bock writes:
It is called truth in advertising. It means that when one reports about events that the remarks be accurate. Few places are more important that this be the case than in discussing politics. For misquotes inflame not only ideas, but feelings—and misquotations get passed on.
There is a process going on here in the latest flap over Ann Coulter. The latest example involve reports about Bill Maher, whose well-known, low standards of communication have fueled the latest flap. Maher started the ball rolling by supposedly saying that “Dick Cheney should be killed by a terrorist.” This became part of Ann Coulter’s “if they do it, we can do it too” defense. The issue has now shown up in an email by Jerry Falwell’s son, Jonathan, who has come to Ann’s defense with a claim of exposing that “liberals can say it, but conservatives can’t” argument (a point that often is true). Even if his point is true, it does not justify Ann’s response. Judgment is something best left to God. As we noted on our initial post, for Christians to do unto others as they do unto you does not apply when the standard is a low one. Jesus exhorted people to a standard that is unlike that of the world.
What is worse is that the initial story is more complicated. It is an exaggeration and misrepresentation, the worst sort of tactic, although it is appears on the left and right in political discourse. Remember that “they do it too” is not a defense; it is a lowering of the standard of engagement to operate with tactics equal to those whose moral ground is being challenged. To try to keep the high ground, argue for it and then descend makes one a hypocrite, and Jesus did not give favorable ratings to that camp.
For the record, here is what took place. Maher initially did not say what is attributed to him. However what clouds the issue is that in subsequent discussion with Joe Scarbrough on Maher’s HBO show, he did defend the right to say such a thing—and with his typical humor. (They were discussing whether the Huffington Post was right to pull such death remarks made by bloggers on its page) What Bill Maher said was that the right to make such a statement should not be censored (oddly enough a position Ann Coulter would apparently defend). Maher also went on to say that had we not gone into Iraq, people would not be needlessly dying. The impression this exchange made was that Maher had said, or at least endorsed, this death to Chaney statement. He actually noted in making his points that he was quoting what others had said as the censorship issue was raised on his show and that he was not saying it himself (One can see the tape at: http://msunderestimated.com/RealTimePt2.wmv) So the ambiguity of the initial exchange is not as clear-cut as Coulter represented in her exchange with Edwards. I note this NOT to defend Maher. He is as reckless and wrong in this area as others. (This post is an equal opportunity critic). I note it because the representation of Maher simplifies a more complicated exchange, for which blame should be more carefully stated, given he did not say the exact statement he is attributed to him. In this case, fact checking matters.
In sum our points are: (1) Fact checking matters in these cases; (2) Everyone does it is not a defense; (3) Shame on both sides from blurring such issues; (4) All of us will do better if we pay careful attention to the facts and not merely take sides because we like the cause of one combatant over another. (5) If we as a community are going to go anywhere in our politics, someone must resist the temptation to take the low road. (6) Should not Christians be first?