As a writer, I am eternally grateful to live in a country where I have the freedom to express myself, even more so after a weekend of news coverage of journalists in other parts of the world who do not. But I also believe that being given a platform for expression comes with a tremendous responsibility. But as Don Imus demonstrated a few years ago, and Pat Buchanan a few days ago, there are plenty of people with much larger platforms than myself, who appear to believe that it gives them cart blanche to yell the equivalent of "FIRE" in the crowded cultural theater known as media.
Most of us recall the infamous Imus "incident," when political shock jock Don Imus described members of the Rutgers women's basketball team with terminology I am choosing not to revisit, but you can here if you are so inclined. Despite his lengthy broadcast career, full of other highs and lows, that incident will likely be referenced in the first, and possibly last, lines of his obituary. In some ways this is an even more effective punishment than throwing Don Imus off of the air. However, I personally never found Imus as dangerous or troubling as some people did. I always viewed him (or rather his shtick -- which I knew to some degree was an act) as an attempt at being Howard Stern for the literary set. (This is not just my perception. Stern and Imus are former colleagues and longtime rivals.) For this reason I never took him all that seriously or lost sleep over anything he said. I did, however, question the judgment of those I do take seriously -- members of Congress and high profile journalists -- who regularly appeared on his show despite the Stern-esque misogyny and often taste-challenged humor his program was notorious for long before the Rutgers incident.
Which brings me back to Pat Buchanan.
I find Pat Buchanan to be articulate, intellectually provocative and charming -- when he wishes to be -- (albeit in a crazy uncle sort of way.) These are among the reasons (although there are more) that I find him much more dangerous than someone like Don Imus. (Sidebar: While I certainly hope that typing the previous sentence and the next won't keep me from being invited back to MSNBC, where so many of the producers, makeup artists and on-air personalities have been incredibly kind to me, I accept the fact that it might. Though I have never discussed this publicly, it's worth noting that my invitations to appear on the network did dry up for a while after an on-air exchange with Pat, that will go down in history as not being one of his finest moments, though it was definitely one of Rachel Maddow's.)
While Don Imus used humor as his shield (and weapon), Pat uses the guise of high-handed intellectual debate. Much like the author of The Bell Curve argued that he was not racist but was simply relying on "facts" that inferred that he and others who look like him are inherently, genetically, intellectually superior to me, Pat uses the guise of spirited intellectual debate to couch ideas that in any dinner party conversation would be viewed as anti-Semitic, plain and simple. (Unless perhaps the dinner party is hosted by David Duke, which, considering some of the company Pat keeps, could be entirely possible.)
A list of Pat's greatest hits can be found here, but it his most recent comments about Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, who is Jewish, that have prompted me to finally ask: why is a major network continuing to provide a paying platform for someone engaged in hate speech? Pat argues, "If Kagan is confirmed, Jews, who represent less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, will have 33 percent of the Supreme Court seats."
Let me be clear. I do not have any sort of vendetta against Pat Buchanan. My mother joked that I should send the man a thank you bouquet for transforming me from an unknown blogger into a YouTube sensation overnight (although I look terrible in the video and I was incorrectly titled as a "Democratic Strategist" -- but hey, you can't have it all.) If anything, I feel sorry for Pat. The fact that America is becoming more colorful, culturally and racially speaking, clearly has left him and some others, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, a subject I have written about before. I actually worry that if we manage to elect a half Black, half Hispanic, lesbian, practicing Jew to the White House during his lifetime he might have to be committed.
But that's where my sympathy ends. I do not sympathize with those who give him a platform to spread his mania. If Imus taught us anything it's that accountability starts at the top.
MSNBC are you listening?
This post originally appeared on TheLoop21.com for which Goff is a political blogger.
Follow Keli Goff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/keligoff