Post, News flay reputations of 2:

Character assassinations of right-wing politicians span globe, cross bounds of ethical journalism

by David Kopel

May 5, 2002

Can we have a serious, respectful debate about immigration? Not if we depend on the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post to provide information or set the tone for dialogue.

Let's start with the featured Special Report on Page 2 of the April 29 Post, an Associated Press article on Dutch political leader Pim Fortuyn, who is leading a right-wing party expected to do well in the May 13 elections. The article compares Fortuyn to French presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. This is a repulsive example of character assassination.

Le Pen is an admirer of the fascist, pro-Nazi Vichy government that ruled part of France during World War II; the slogan of Le Pen's party is an exact copy of the Vichy government's motto. Le Pen has called the Holocaust a minor part of the story of World War II, and he proposes a law forbidding Jewish and Muslim schoolchildren from wearing their religious head coverings. In contrast, Fortuyn has never expressed the slightest admiration for fascism, or proposed any restrictions on religious or other freedoms.

Yet the AP article, and the Post headline accuse Fortuyn of arousing Dutch "demons." The article says that Fortuyn seems "out of place" in a country "which has a reputation for liberalism." Fortuyn's sin? The article writes that Fortuyn "calls Islam anti-secular and backward."

I was able to find Fortuyn's actual quote (as opposed to the AP's summary of it) by going to the excellent Web log samizdata.blogspot.com. Fortuyn, who is an openly gay sociology professor, denounced Holland's large Muslim immigrant population for hostility toward gays, for sexism, for oppression of women, and for wanting to impose its religious values on everyone. Further, "Islam is a backward religion, whose followers see us Westerners as an inferior race."

In other words, the gay Dutch sociology professor offered complaints about Islam which are quite similar to complaints that some gay American sociology professors (and other American gays) offer about Christianity: anti-gay, sexist, morally imperialist, and premised on the belief that one religion is superior to all others. Now, when American gay activists make such remarks, the AP doesn't work itself into a lather and claim that the remarks reveal "demons" in the American character, because a lot of Americans agree with the criticism of religion.

The AP article concludes that Fortuyn "also wants to weaken the constitutional guarantee against discrimination." Fortuyn is thus portrayed as a bigot, while the AP provides no explanation of what law Fortuyn wants to repeal, or why he favors repeal.

The answer is he wants to repeal Article 1 of the Dutch Constitution, which states "Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race, or sex, or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted." This article applies not just to the government, but also to individuals. Fortuyn wants the article repealed so that people can openly and legally discuss issues like the refusal of the large number of Muslim illegal aliens in Holland to learn Dutch, and the fact that in Holland (as in much of Western Europe), rising violent crime rates are closely tied to gangs of Arab immigrant youths, who receive large welfare benefits. In other words, Fortuyn is proposing that free speech protection in Holland be expanded to the levels of the American First Amendment.

Here in Colorado, we've got more free speech rights than the Dutch do, but exercising those rights can get you in a lot of trouble. Congressman Tom Tancredo is in hot water with the White House because Tancredo denounced the Bush administration's proposals for loosening immigration laws, and warned that lower border security could allow terrorists to enter the country. As Al Knight pointed out in an April 24 Post column, the News' coverage of the story was entirely one-sided against Tancredo, and dismissive of serious policy arguments.

But the worst coverage came four days later, in a Post editorial. The headline and the text compared Tancredo to the "Know-Nothing Party," which was accurately described as a "virulent" and "anti-Roman Catholic" political party from 1852. To describe Tancredo as anti-Catholic is simply preposterous; he grew up an Italian Catholic in the ethnic neighborhoods of West Denver.

Then, the editorial placed Tancredo in the tradition of the Ku Klux Klan, accurately describing the KKK as "a hate group." At the Independence Institute, I worked in an office next door to Tancredo for five years. I got a pretty good picture of his flaws, but never -- not once -- did he ever say anything even slightly hostile about any ethnic or racial group.

Whether Tancredo is right or wrong, his current spat with Bush amounts to disagreeing with Bush's proposal to loosen current immigration laws. What kind of world have we come to when arguing in favor of existing immigration laws gets you branded as racist and anti-Catholic?  

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