Meditations on Ward Churchill, Bill O’Reilly, and the Liberal Media

Sometimes things get blown out of proportion. The near-visit of University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill to Hamilton College would be one of those events. Almost two weeks later, there is still general uproar circulating about this event. Mr. Churchill’s visit certainly raises complicated questions of free speech, media bias, and protesting; here are the most relevant thoughts I could muster. Without question, Professor Churchill’s essay comparing the victims of 9/11 to an organizer of the Holocaust is insensitive at the very least, and grossly inaccurate and hypocritical in reality. Mr. Churchill has been portrayed as a lunatic, which could be true, but we tolerate all types of fruitcakes in this country.I think an important realization is that many equally radical thinkers travel around the country to speak their minds. Mr. Churchill is a Native American Rights activist, but there are leaders of NOW or PETA that make outlandish claims and comments as well. In fact, such fringe-minded speakers visit college campuses more frequently than Mr. Churchill, with relatively little stir off-campus. Consider Central New York alone: Ann Coulter spoke at Colgate last spring; Michael Moore was at Syracuse University last fall. There is nothing wrong with speakers of Mr. Churchill’s ilk traveling and speaking at American colleges. The real stomach-turning aspect of this saga is the response to Mr. Churchill’s scheduled visit. In my humble and youthful opinion, the death threats that have rained down on Hamilton’s employees, its President, its students, Mr. Churchill, his wife, and his family were more ethically improper than any written word. These barbaric threats stand as a discouraging sign that many Americans are ill-prepared and unwilling to handle anything with which they do not agree. Sure, 9/11 is a sensitive issue still, especially in this region, but death threats are an inexcusable and cowardly retreat from rationality.On a cynically lighter note, I have enjoyed many “inside laughs” from the allegations that Bill O’Reilly incited death threats and was wrong to call for protests to Mr. Churchill’s visit. While I cannot support many of Mr. O’Reilly’s tactics or ideologies, I recognize that he is merely one player in the political sensationalism machine that Americans support. To suggest that O’Reilly has to tone-down his speech is simply un-American, and it is as unfounded as demanding that Moore must use facts in his “documentaries.” This is just a function of America’s current political culture. In response some assertions that appeared in last week’s Maroon-News that the Wall Street Journal is somehow on ideological par with Mr. O’Reilly, I submit the following: while there is certainly a growing movement of “conservative” media, denying the overall liberal lean on the news in America is short-sighted. By the latest available data, over 60 percent of the American newspaper media identify themselves as “liberal/Democratic,” while only 15 percent identify themselves as right-leaning. If there has been even mild praise of President Bush in a single New York Times editorial in the last two years, this daily reader has missed it. Regardless of which side is more biased, no media outlet is capable of making somebody threaten another person’s life. The Churchill story is a chilling sociological indicator of the political climate in America. Americans need to somehow re-learn how to deal with “radicals” such as Churchill because their ranks are swelling and, in all likelihood, one is coming soon to a town near you.