Last weekend, Melissa Harris-Perry hosted a panel of guests who collectively reviewed photographs from 2013 including a family photo of Mitt Romney holding his adopted African-American grandson. Harris-Perry and the panelists chuckled at the photo and tossed around some off-handed remarks, such as when Dean Obeidallah said, "It really sums up the diversity of the Republican party, the RNC. At the convention, they find the one black person." Pia Glenn sang the familiar ditty, "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just isn’t the same..."
On cue, outrage ensued within the conservative media, and it'll culminate this weekend when Romney appears on Fox News Sunday where he will likely address the controversy.
Now look, I like Harris-Perry, but I have a thing about injecting those who I consider to be "noncombatants" into the public debate. It's unfair, easy and oftentimes cruel. And this segment fell into that trap. Dissect Mitt Romney all you want, and there's a lot to dissect, but leave his kids and grandkids out of it.
Unfortunately, there are many players on the right, not unlike Harris-Perry and her panel, who have also failed to follow this rule. In fact, there are quite a few examples of right-wing talkers and bloggers who completely steamrolled over this rule, then stopped, backed over it, then jammed the gears to run over it again.
1) Trayvon Martin. Sure, there are plenty of people who defended George Zimmerman, but what I still can't grasp is the merciless attacks on Trayvon himself: a dead 16-year-old child. We're all familiar with the smear campaign. Geraldo Rivera infamously said Trayvon's hoodie might have invited the shooting. Rush Limbaughand others tried to connect Trayvon to the Black Panthers via, strangely enough, President Obama. Drudge posted sensationalized headlines about Trayvon's past while illustrating the links with a "grills" photo of Trayvon which was obviously meant to feed anti-black "gangsta" stereotypes. Tucker Carlson's The Daily Caller released what were purported to be Trayvon's tweets. Glenn Beck's The Blaze posted an entire list of infractions Trayvon might have committed at his high school. Again, a dead and therefore defenseless kid. Classy.
2) Sandra Fluke. Fluke's reputation was utterly assassinated inside the conservative entertainment complex -- an ordinary citizen who, at the time, simply delivered some brief remarks to members of Congress. For her obvious crime, the right-wing media, and most notably Rush Limbaugh, declared war on a woman who had never appeared on cable news or talk radio or even maintained a blog. Easy, then, for Limbaugh and others to draw blood by means of overwhelming the so-called enemy with the full force of right-wing radio and television.
3) Everyone accosted by The O'Reilly Factor's Jesse Watters and Porter Berry. In addition to O'Reilly's jihad against the late Dr. George Tiller, Bill O'Reilly and his brigade of stalking underlings have made a career out of lurking in parking lots awaiting everyone from school principals to low-level nobodies. Here are some of his noncombatant victims:
Homeless Veterans, 1/31/08: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters confronts the group outside of Fox News headquarters as they try to deliver a petition to O'Reilly.
Helen Jones-Kelley, Director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, 11/6/08: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters follows Jones-Kelley -- after she refused to talk to him -- to a fire station, where a police chief intervenes to stop the harassment.
Jenna Kern, Member of the Unitarian Universalist Church, 8/21/08: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters confronts Kern in her driveway outside of her home.
Rev. Michael Pfleger, Catholic Priest, 4/3/08: O'Reilly producer Porter Berry confronts Pfleger outside of his church.
Dr. George Garcia, Boulder High School Superintendent, 5/29/07: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters confronts Garcia on a wooded road away from his school.
Bud Jenkins, Boulder High School Principal, 5/29/07: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters confronts Jenkins in the parking lot of his school.
Dr. Helayne Jones, Boulder High School Board Member, 5/29/07: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters confronts Jones inside of her garage as she tries to enter her home.
Pedro Irigonegaray, Attorney for Dr. George Tiller, 11/7/06: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters confronts Irigonegaray outside of his law office.
4) The Obama Girls. Both Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have repeatedly mocked Malia Obama, imitating her voice with what can only be described as the most annoying sounds in the world -- ever. While we're talking about daughters of presidents, who can forget Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) joke about Chelsea Clinton at a GOP fundraiser. Chelsea Clinton was also the butt of Rush Limbaugh's special brand of misogyny.
5) Students at an Islamic grade school in Northern Virginia.Glenn Beckouted an Islamic private school in Northern Virginia when the school's sole newsworthy trespass was that an application to expand its campus was approved by the local zoning board. But Beck went on an extended googly-eyed, sarcasmo rant (lots of "maybe it's just me but... ") about the school being a de facto training camp for would-be terrorists, and even invoked September 11th imagery -- collapsed buildings and the like -- in the process.
6) 11-year-old Julia Hall. Rewind to 2009 during the health care reform debate when an 11-year-old girl asked President Obama a question during a town hall meeting about the "mean things" she observed on various protest signs outside. Michelle Malkin and other conservatives swooped into action, investigating and exposing the girl and her parents for being "Obamabots."
7) Graeme Frost. Malkin isn't the first to stalk and attack children, but she certainly popularized it during the Bush era debate over expanding the SCHIP program. You might recall how Malkin famously stalked a 12-year-old accident survivor named Graeme Frost after he appeared in a commercial supporting SCHIP, the children's health insurance program.
8) The list goes on and on.World Net Daily attacked a high school play. Anti-choice activists targeted the child of a landlord who rents space to a women's clinic. Limbaugh, once again, attacked a 13-year-old boy and called him a "Nazi stormtrooper." The entirety of the conservative entertainment Kraken was released on 11-year-old Marcelas Owens after he attended the Affordable Care Act signing ceremony.
And, yes, Melissa Harris-Perry joked about Romney's grandson -- oh, and David Letterman once made a joke about Bristol Palin. That said, the balance is clearly and heavily lopsided to the right. Seriously, if you're outraged about what Harris-Perry and her panel said about Romney's grandson, take another hard look at the above list. After you've read it again, can we all agree that anyone who isn't personally involved in politics or the news media is off limits? Can we resolve to do this -- to show a little decency and restraint? There are plenty of ripe yet legitimate targets for our collective vitriol, so I think it's possible to resist the urge to turn our bile-filled supersoakers in the direction of people who aren't necessary ensconced in the national fracas.