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Friday, February 9, 2007

Was it something I said?

Posted By on 02.09.07 at 02:37 PM

While today's Chicago Tribune covers presidential candidates' fund-raisers, the blogosphere has been all over  the story of two well-known feminist bloggers being hired by the John Edwards campaign, then fired, then quickly rehired. They're Chicago-area blogger Melissa McEwan, aka Shakespeare's Sister, and Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte. Short version: a potty-mouthed conservative Catholic called them potty mouths.

If you want the details, here's what William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights said they said. Here's a sample of Donohue's own output. And here are the statements from Edwards and the two bloggers. Salon's Alex Koppelman and Rebecca Traister have been on the case.

I've quoted Pandagon and Shakespeare's Sister here before. I think they're right on the issues and Donohue's wrong. Like Edwards, I'm not always comfortable with their language, but then again it's not my uterus that Donohue wants the government to regulate according to his sectarian beliefs.

Media Matters documents the noncoverage of a similar situation involving John McCain and a right-wing blogger who not only engaged in what Donohue now wants to call hate speech but didn't disclose that McCain had employed him. And you may recall the vice president of the United States dropping the F-bomb on a colleague on the Senate floor.

Some distinctions may be in order:

Is there a difference, at least in degree, between offensive language and bigoted language? Marcotte's explicit physical description of the Immaculate Conception strikes me as offensive, but it's not as if she called Catholicism a gutter religion. Similarly, calling Al Sharpton a liar isn't racist; calling him something using the N word would be. 

Political positions get rougher treatment than religious ones in the public square. If the Catholic Church merely denied its members the right to choose abortion and encouraged others not to choose it and prayed for the practice to end, then its position on abortion wouldn't be attacked in the same way -- and if it were, that would be inappropriate. But a large number of Catholics, including the hierarchy, want the government to forbid anyone to choose an abortion. That's a political position and a theocratic one. It deserves rough handling, and that rough handling isn't bigotry -- it's fair play. If Donohue can't stand the heat he should get out of the kitchen. The excellent Glenn Greenwald says this well and a good deal more. (I should add that the same principle applies to official church positions I agree with, such as opposition to the Iraq fiasco.)

The also excellent Archpundit points out that this episode doesn't speak well for the Edwards campaign's savvy. Yes, John Edwards didn't roll over for right-wing critics, but he obviously wasn't prepared for them either. Now that candidates need blogger help, they're going to have to be ready to deal with the fact that bloggers spill their guts every day in every way -- and not always in ways that will attract the kind of voters who make up their minds at the last minute based on casual impressions.

Greenwald thinks this episode is over, but it's not. Today, Donohue says, "I have developed a game plan that will keep this issue afloat for the remainder of the year." Would it be bigoted to call that rounding up a lynch mob?

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