‘Blood Libel’ Outrage: Media Responds Badly to Sarah Palin

Ex-governor’s use of inflammatory phrase sparks even more pundit rhetoric

Last Updated: January 13, 2011 @ 7:39 AM

Sarah Palin’s accusation that the media had “manufactured blood libel” in the wake of the shootings in Tucson not only provoked outrage on Wednesday from Jewish groups, it sparked the kind of rhetoric from media pundits she was purportedly criticizing.

"Whether it was her intention or not,” Chuck Todd said on MSNBC, “she is feeding the beast of what has really been a pretty nasty ideological finger-pointing fight that we have been watching on Twitter and the Internet and on some forms of cable television."

Read also: Brand Palin Takes a Hit With 'Blood Libel' Video

Howard Fineman wrote on the Huffington Post that “has just proven again that she has only one gear — forward — and only one mode — attack.”

“The 2012 presidential campaign has begun,” Fineman wrote, “not in Iowa or New Hampshire, but in the bloody streets of Tucson”:

After remaining essentially silent for three days — amped up the rhetoric in a pointed counterattack, accusing "journalists and pundits" of manufacturing a "blood libel" against her by suggesting that she somehow is to blame for the toxic political atmosphere in Arizona. There are few more freighted phrases in the history of hate than "blood libel," which is the ancient and false accusation that Jews secretly murder Christian children as part of their religious rituals. This anti-Semitic attack has resulted in countless pogroms and massacres through the ages.

Both Todd and Fineman later appeared on “Hardball” with Chris Matthews, who slammed Palin’s use of gun imagery in her Tea Party speeches — and her failure to apologize for it.

“One thing we know about assassinations – they’re committed with guns,” Matthews said. “Why not stop talking about guns and [using] ballistic language?”

On the “blood libel” point, Matthews added: “I think she has to walk this back, but she doesn't have a reverse gear on her tongue.”

On CNN, Wolf Blitzer called Palin’s video carefully scripted and highly produced, noting that it seemed like a “prebuttal” ahead of President Obama’s scheduled remarks from the Tucson Memorial on Wednesday night. On "John King USA," (pictured above) the debate over the former Alaska Governor's words filled airtime across the political spectrum.

It’s worth noting that Fox News, where Palin is a paid “commentator,” did not mention her “blood” comments during the times I was watching – but did have a video panel weigh in on FoxNews.com. The panel, however, made no mention of "blood libel." (The site did run a "fair and balanced" piece on the controversy.)

All three network newscasts reported on Palin's comments, but largely focused on updating the Tucson tragedy and new details on Jared Lee Loughner, and Obama's expected speech at the Memorial.

“It took me a few minutes of watching Sarah Palin's video message this morning to realize that it wasn't an OnionTV production starring an uncannily good Palin impersonator,” Amy Sullivan wrote on Time’s Swampland blog. “While lashing out at the idea that her ‘lock and load’ rhetoric could contribute to any act of violence, Palin … characterized critics of her as guilty of ‘a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn.’ … [L]et me see if I understand this. Palin's words are obviously just words and could never ever influence anyone's actions. But the words of her critics are irresponsibly provocative and have the power ‘to incite hatred and violence’? My head hurts.”

Mine does too.

The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz thinks Palin missed a golden opportunity to elevate the discussion:

After days of silence, she had a chance to speak to the country in a calmer, more inclusive way. She could have said that all of us, including her, needed to avoid excessively harsh or military-style language, without retreating one inch from her strongly held beliefs.

However, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz defended Palin’s use of “blood libel” — on Andrew Breitbart’s “Big Government” site:

The term “blood libel” has taken on a broad metaphorical meaning in public discourse. Although its historical origins were in theologically based false accusations against the Jews and the Jewish People, its current usage is far broader. I myself have used it to describe false accusations against the State of Israel by the Goldstone Report. T

here is nothing improper and certainly nothing anti-Semitic in Sarah Palin using the term to characterize what she reasonably believes are false accusations that her words or images may have caused a mentally disturbed individual to kill and maim. The fact that two of the victims are Jewish is utterly irrelevant.

Three of the Atlantic’s online pundits, meanwhile, tried to make sense of Palin’s puzzling monologue.

Ta-Nehisi Coates: “There is no evidence, anywhere that Palin has any interest in being calm or inclusive. This is who she is, and it's what she does. […] Calling herself a victim of ‘blood libel,’ is really only a notch above Clarence Thomas claiming he was being subject to a ‘high-tech lynching.’”

Andrew Sullivan: “[Palin] can see absolutely nothing awry in the inflammatory and violent rhetoric she and others have deployed so aggressively in the past two years. Nothing. The attempted assassination of a congresswoman after relentless demonization of her, after her opponent brandished an M-16 at a campaign rally, after a brick was thrown through her campaign window, after she personally complained about Palin's own metaphorical cross-hairs on her … this is an utterly, totally, completely irrelevant set of events.”

Sullivan continued: “Palin does not possess the self-awareness, responsibility or composure to respond to crises like this with grace. This message — even at a time of national crisis — was a base-rousing rallying cry.”

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg offered a bit of a different take: “Sarah Palin is such an important political and cultural figure that her use of the term ‘blood libel’ should introduce this very important historical phenomenon to a wide audience, and the ensuing discussion — about how Fox News is not actually Mendel Beilis — will serve to enlighten and inform.”

Chris Cillizza wrote on the Washington Post website that “Palin is as much provocateur as politician at this moment”:

From "death panels" to "how's that hopey, changey thing working for you?" to "blood libel,” Palin more often adopts the language of talk radio than of party politics. Put simply: These sorts of statements are more likely to wind up on a bumper sticker or T-shirt than in the Republican party platform.

Many politicians, unsurprisingly, declined to comment on Palin’s choice of words. But assistant House minority leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) did, echoing some of the liberal pundits on Bill Press’ radio show.

"You know, Sarah Palin just can't seem to get it, on any front. I think that she's an attractive person, she is articulate," Clyburn said. "But I think intellectually, she seems not to be able to understand what's going on here."