No cure for what Ailes us

Larry Levin

BY LARRY LEVIN

Abe Foxman is far more magnanimous than me.

How do I know this? Because when Fox News President Roger Ailes last week apologized for calling National Public Radio executives Nazis regarding their termination of commentator Juan Williams, Foxman, who heads the Anti- Defamation League, was able to forgive him.

But I wasn’t, and I’m not.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m generally an easy grader on the apology spectrum. When people demonstrates true sincerity and remorse about their actions, I’m often the first (and sometimes only) to let bygones be bygones. After all, I’ve made all sorts of mistakes in my life, and I fully expect to make more, so I am unwilling to elevate myself above others when they beg forgiveness.

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Ailes’s case, however, is entirely different, for one very important reason: There is virtually no indication that Ailes means it.

Am I calling Roger Ailes a liar? Well, I can’t get inside his brain, so I wouldn’t go that far. But what I can do is look at how he has allowed those on his network, particularly Glenn Beck, to use the Nazi label with impunity on any number of occasions, and so far I have no reason to believe that Ailes will instruct his talent to stop.

No, this is not a free speech issue. Williams was subject to rules and according to NPR, he apparently had broken them and had done so on numerous prior occasions. You can certainly fairly debate NPR’s rules, and whether the network applies them evenly and fairly, and whether the network is biased. You can even take NPR CEO Vivian Schiller to task for the ill-timed and poorly rhetorical way that she handled the termination in public.

But that’s a different discussion for a different time. All that has nothing to do with calling NPR execs Nazis, which is inherently a grossly indecent label. By equating the alleged political correctness of NPR (in terminating Williams) with the behavior of Nazis, Ailes provides exceptionally offensive dual insults to NPR and Holocaust survivors and victims.

To NPR the message is, “Your decision to terminate Juan Williams is tantamount to killing 12 million people.” That surely is about as demeaning as one can get in talking about professionals at a fellow media outlet who don’t share your point of view. To Holocaust survivors and the memories of their loved ones, the message is, “That thing that led to the death and suffering of millions, including your relatives? That was no big deal really, it was just about as bad as a news network firing a commentator.” Doesn’t that seem to treat the Shoah as a mite insignificant?

And the reason I won’t forgive him is because the allusions to Fox’s political enemies as Nazis go on and on. Glenn Beck’s shows are littered with Nazi references. He recently accused Jewish financier George Soros of sending Jews to death camps as a 13 year old. He’s railed similarly against Al Gore, the National Education Association, critics of the tea party movement, and has compared Obama’s “civilian national security forces” – a reference to expanding AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps – to the SS. Bill O’Reilly has compared those supporting gun control laws to Nazis. And now Ailes.

Here’s the deal: You do NOT get a free pass on hate speech because you happen to say you support Israel a lot, any more than someone on the left (Bishop Desmond Tutu, for instance, or the entire BDS movement) should get a free pass by referring to Israel’s policies as the equivalent to “South African apartheid” (they’re not).

The reason I am singling Ailes out at this particular time is not because of Fox’s location on the political spectrum. It is because he wields a great deal of power in present-day America, and his words and those of his hired guns are heard constantly and repeatedly. He and his denizens have an obligation to use their license in a professional and responsible way, and not in a way that utterly demeans both Jews and the memories of those who died in the Holocaust.

So as long as Ailes and company continue to act in that way, I have no intention of forgiving them. I’m sure he doesn’t care, nor will he ever know, whether I do or not, and perhaps he’s taken Foxman’s forgiveness as somehow reflective of the Jewish community in its totality. I have no idea. All I know is, by telling you I don’t forgive him, at least I can sleep at night. As to whether Ailes can, well, that’s his concern, not mine.

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Larry A. Levin is Publisher/CEO of the St. Louis Jewish Light