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Media ignore Catholic League’s bigotry; harassed feminist bloggers pay the price

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February 15th, 2007

By Guest Blogger Tedra Osell

More and more, what happens online, in the world of blogs, spills over into newspapers and National Public Radio: the “mainstream media,” as traditional news sources have come to be known. Example: the recent blog dustup over John Edward’s hiring–then firing, then rehiring, then accepting the resignations of–two women to run his campaign blog. Amanda Marcotte, best known for her blog Pandagon, was hired as Edward’s “Blogmistress” on January 30 and announced her resignation on February 12 . Melissa McEwan, better known online as Shakespeare’s Sister, worked as a technical advisor on Edward’s blog from January 31 to February 13.

During their tenures, both women were attacked by a range of right-wing critics. Michelle Malkin criticized Marcotte’s “foul-mouthed nutroots diatribes” [sic] and “lunatic blogging” and–erroneously–claimed that Marcotte had deliberately deleted a post (about the Duke rape case) that had been lost in a technical mishap. Malkin’s subsequent correction, “Looks like Marcotte’s Katrina post is actually still available to the public here under a different URL. My bad. Or rather, John Edwards’ bad. Because it’s even worse for the Edwards campaign that its blogmaster left crackpot posts like that one up and hired her anyway,” is buried two-thirds of the way down the page of an earlier post about Bill O’Reilly. Later, Malkin also posted a bizarre video spoofing one of Marcotte’s Pandagon essays.

National Review Online’s editor, Katherine Jean Lopez declared Marcotte anti-Catholic for Marcotte’s–correct–assertion that the concept of limbo is one that the Church itself has abandoned, and cited the subtitle of a Pandagon post, “FAQ on the Catholic Church’s ‘Crazy’ Teachings About Birth Control” without acknowledging or even seeming to recognize the deliberately ironic use of scare quotes around “crazy.”

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League called Marcotte and McEwan “two anti-Catholic vulgar trash-talking bigots,” for (among other things) letting the question of whether Limbo is official church teaching drop (”it’s going to be bad PR for the church, so you can sort of see why the Pope is dragging ass.”) (Marcotte) and for pointing out that “some of Christianity’s most prominent leaders—including the Pope—regularly speak out against gay tolerance” (McEwan).

Donohue’s criticisms, in particular, caught the attention of both the New York Times and the Washington Post, prompting Edwards to issue a brief statement distancing himself from both Marcotte’s and McEwan’s former blogging while reiterating his faith in the two women’s professional abilities.

Nonetheless, Marcotte and McEwan were gone within a week. Donohue’s accusations of anti-Catholic bias seem to have been the catalyst, suggesting that the religious right’s political power continues to play a significant role in our electoral process. The influence of religion on the Bush presidency has been well-established, though Bush’s recent troubles have raised questions about whether the religious right will continue to be an important part of the Republican base. The Marcotte/McEwan affair suggests that Democrats, too, are subject to pressure from, and prone to cowtowing to, the religious right.

This is a troubling development. Both Marcotte’s and McEwan’s supposed “anti-Catholic” writings were, in fact, strongly-worded condemnations of the Catholic Church’s position on abortion and birth control–political, as well as religious, issues targeting the institution, not individual Catholics. Donohue’s determination to link the two women in his broad-based attacks strongly suggests that his underlying concern is not anti-Catholicism per se, but rather feminism. Marcotte and McEwan have very different voices and were doing different jobs for Edwards. They have only one thing in common: both are well-known feminist bloggers.

The misogny of Donohue’s attack, in particular, seems not to be lost on readers who wrote to Amanda, calling her a “stupid bitch,” telling her that she “just needs a good fucking from a real man!” or that “i don’t particularly want to have sex with you but i would like a blow job,” and explaining that

after reading your vile screed against Catholics and the Holy Spirit, I just had to see what you looked like. (I envisioned you eyebrow-less, with no visible pupils, and a blank, dead stare.) I see I was correct about the blank, dead stare, but other than that you’re not too bad. I then thought maybe you were mad at God (and by proxy Catholics) for making you ugly, but now I’m figuring you’re just mad at him for making you a woman.

Donohue’s diatribes seem to have been the turning point that led to both Edward’s statement and the women’s resignations. His political power rests on his use of Catholicism as a tool for a long record of politically-motivated accusations of “anti-Catholicism.” Particularly disturbing is how corporate media reprinted Donohue’s attacks without much mention of his record of bigotry-fueled, politically-motivated rants. He has attempted to bully the Democratic National Committee into distancing itself from Catholics for a Free Choice, a pro-choice Catholic organization. He falsely claimed that the Pope never declared the Iraq war unjust and declared that Catholics voting for John Kerry–himself a Catholic–were “cooperating in evil,” according to Media Matters. In 2006, during the Iraq war, he referenced a Turkish film to support his claim that “people don’t trust the Muslims when it comes to liberty, because they will abuse it. In this country, we prize freedom of religion. They abhor it.” He asked an Asian student, “I want to know, why don’t you have a sense of humor about gook jokes?” during a 2002 debate on Phil Donahue’s short-lived MSNBC show.

Donohue’s use of Catholicism as a cloak for his politics extends beyond specific social and political issues, though, to a broader animus against liberalism generally, including liberal Catholics. He told the Today Show that the abuse of children by priests is “a homosexual scandal, not a pedophilia scandal” and later claimed that “It’s homosexuals” who are responsible for the abuse. He has gone after Joan Osborne, a lapsed Catholic and a bisexual, for her song “One of Us,” about a human god–this despite the fact that Christ’s incarnation is central to Catholic belief. Similarly, he published a booklet labelling the film Dogma, by Kevin Smith (a practicing Catholic), “anti-Catholic.” His campaign against the television show Nothing Sacred–a show for which Jesuits were hired as advisors–helped get the show pulled. When journalist Bill Moyers characterized the Bush administration’s position on abortion rights as “the power of the state to force pregnant women to give up control over their own lives,” Donohue attacked Moyers as anti-Catholic: “Moyers may be a minister, but at the end of the day he’s scared to death of religion.”

Donohue’s prejudice against “liberal” Hollywood frequently involves coded (and not so coded) attacks on Jews and gays. “Who really cares what Hollywood thinks?” he asks. “All these hacks come out there. Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.” (MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, 12/8/2004). Moreover,”there are people in Hollywood, not all of them, but there are some people who are nothing more than harlots” who “will do anything for the buck. . . . If you asked them to sodomize their own mother in a movie, they would do so, and they would do it with a smile on their face” (MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, 2/09/2006).

Echidne of the Snakes, also a WIMN’s Voices blogger, has compiled additional examples of Donohue’s bigoted rants against the anti-Catholic liberals he sees everywhere he looks.

Despite his frequent appearances on MSNBC, Bill Donohue’s outrageousness is a good sign that he is not a representative American Catholic. And yet, the corporate media fails to recognize or report on Donohue’s fringe status, giving the impression that The Catholic League is a mainstream Catholic organization. This is an inexcusable omission; Donohue’s own statements show him to be a bigot and a far-right bully who is not above bashing fellow Catholics whose politics differ from his own. As Frances Kissling, herself a frequent target of Donohue’s, explained in Salon on Tuesday, “the glee with which he has gone after [Marcotte and McEwan] marks him as an abuser.”

From her mouth to God’s ears. Apparently the papers of record aren’t listening.

Guest Blogger Tedra Osell is the author of the popular blog Bitch Ph.D. She is currently on leave from a university position in Canada, and using this year to expand her freelancing from online to print publications.

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