Friday, August 21, 2009

Did Rachel Maddow "lie" about MoveOn's Nazi "ad"?

In a word: no. But there is a bigger question....

This is a meme gaining traction amongst even moderate conservatives after Rachel Maddow's appearance on Meet the Press last Sunday. While I'm not a huge fan of her specific views in every instance, I do think she adds constructively to the political debate and I was glad to see her fresh face on Meet the Press which is usually a forum for the Washington/New York establishment dinosaurs.

Last Sunday, Dick Armey was trying to paint the picture that MoveOn was "comparing Bush to Hitler" in 2004 and Maddow interrupted Armey to say that Moveon did not compare Bush to Hitler. Is she correct? Let's look a the evidence.

Right wing sites have presented the video in question as well as protesters who have vile pictures of Bush and Cheney in Nazi uniforms, etc. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said it best when he said that such imagery misses the point and we should lower the heat a little bit on the debate.

Back to the question at hand. Did MoveOn "run an ad" comparing Bush to Hitler? The "ad" in question was part of a contest and was uploaded onto their site along with hundreds of other entries without being screened. This would be akin to a call-in show having a caller say something that the host may not necessarily agree with. As Media Matters put it:

...two videos submitted to a advertisement contest had included Hitler imagery in their 30-second attacks on President Bush. (They were just two of the 1,500 clips submitted.) MoveOn never endorsed the efforts or promoted them; the clips simply appeared on MoveOn's crowded contest website. But when news spread about their mere existence, a controversy erupted, and the liberal netroots group quickly pulled the ads, apologized for their inclusion, and denounced the use of Nazi imagery.

Did MoveOn endorse Nazi imagery? Not even close. Of course, as Media Matters and Glenn Greenwald point out, Fox News and other outlets were quick to present the MoveOn "ad" as an endorsement when it was actually one opinion from an anonymous commenter (and the Nazi "ad" could have easily been planted by pro-Bush forces as a gotcha to garner sympathy from moderates against MoveOn, if you want another scenario.) This whole manufactured controversy was one tactic in the effort to falsely paint Bush's critics as unreasonable screechers in the run-up to the 2004 election. It worked.

Was Rachel Maddow correct to call foul on Dick Armey? Absolutely. The bigger question is why would Dick Armey make this cryptic statement about a five year old pseudo-controversy on the widely watched Meet the Press show now out of the blue? Maybe it's just because he's an asshole. But my bet is that it's to go on mainstream TV to take the heat off conservative commentators who have a long history of using Nazi imagery to lather up their meathead listeners. Or to resurrect this anti-MoveOn sympathy amongst ill-informed moderate voters in the heartland yet again. Nothing happens by accident.... expecially in Dick Armey's world.

Any use of Nazi imagery is really just an attempt to sensationalize a situation and invoke an emotional response. In practice, it backfires amongst rational people and ends up with your opponent gaining more sympathy since nobody in the modern mainstream (not even Limbaugh) comes close to the evil of the Third Reich. Some call this Godwin's Law (of Hitler Analogies.) Among idiots who fall for the Nazi comparisons, however, it can be beneficial in stoking up rage.

For the record, did Nancy Pelosi call protesters at town hall meetings Nazis? Again, the answer is no... but that hasn't stopped right wing outlets from using this in their appeal to moderates. This entire debate has devolved into a shouting match and the forces who benefit from the broken status quo are the only winners. Dick Armey's clients in the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries will continue to see record profits and shovel money into their coffers while the rest of us pull each other's hair out over who's a Nazi and who isn't.

Maddow was just trying to politely re-focus the conversation.

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