Sarah Palin has come under criticism for using the term “a blood libel” to refer to the accusations that she incited Jared Loughner to murder in Tucson.
I previously explained why Palin’s use of the term was consistent with modern usage, and how the criticism of her use of the term was purely political.
I also should point out, as others have, that there is rank hypocrisy on the issue. Jim Geraghty did us all a favor by accumulating examples of people on both the left and right using the term in a context other than the historical meaning. (Added: More examples here.)
Culling through the hyperbole and hypocrisy, the Official Award for most hypocritical criticism of Palin’s use of the term “blood libel” goes to Andrew Cohen:
“Andrew Cohen is a Murrow Award–winning legal analyst and commentator. He covers legal events and issues for CBS Radio News and its hundreds of affiliates around the country and is a frequent contributor to the op-ed pages of the nation’s leading newspapers and online sites. From 2000-2009, Andrew served as chief legal analyst and legal editor for CBS News and contributed to the network’s coverage of the Supreme Court, the war on terrorism, and every high-profile civil or criminal trial of the decade. He is also an avid horseman, a Standardbred owner and breeder, and the winner of the 2007 John Hervey Award for distinguished commentary about harness horse racing.”
Writing recently in The Atlantic, Cohen took Palin to task for using the term:
“Sarah Palin may or may not be the victim of unwarranted criticism in the wake of Jared Lee Loughner’s shooting spree in Tucson last Saturday. As far as I’m concerned, that is a non-justiciable “political question”– as federal judges get to say — and one that I will gladly leave to the legions of inspired commentators who have been gnawing on that particular bone for the past few days.
But whatever Palin is, or is not, neither she (nor anyone else) is the victim here of a “blood libel,” as she claimed Wednesday in responding to the tragedy in Arizona and the way she perceives it was handled by the media.”
Cohen then goes on to cite the historical meaning of a “blood libel” and finds that Palin did not use the term correctly:
“If Palin did not know what a ”blood libel” means she should not have included the phrase in her remarks. And if she did understand its dark significance she should not have included the phrase in her remarks. Either way, It was inappropriate and insensitive.”
Cohen, though, recognizes that many people, including Cohen himself, have used the term other than in the historical context, so Cohen was sure to include a mea culpa:
Nor is it a viable defense to a politician’s sloppy use of the phrase that others — on the left or on the right — have loosely used the phrase before or that most Americans don’t understand its tragic import anyway. Two or more wrongs don’t make a right, right?
Trust me, I know. I have loosely used the phrase before, at least once, and I cannot even claim as a defense any ignorance of its terrible meaning. In 2005, I used it to describe the work of Ward Churchill, the professor who once called the victims of the World Trade Center attack “Little Eichmanns” and complicit in their own deaths…”
Cohen’s confession hardly lessened his point; after all, Ward Churchill having accused the victims of 911 of being Little Eichmanns was a pretty egregious example. If Cohen went a little off course in calling Ward Churchill’s accusation a “blood libel,” well who could really blame Cohen for a little linguistic license.
Having confessed to an inaccurate use of the term once in his career, Cohen concluded that Palin was wrong to use the term as to the Tucson shooting accusations against her:
“The blood libel is one of the most pernicious and deadly lies in human history. For the sake of the Tucson victims, if not our own, we should all agree to leave it there.”
But Cohen neglects to mention that Ward Churchill was not the only person towards whom Cohen had used the term “blood libel.”
In May 2008, Cohen accused then presidential nominee John McCain of engaging in a “blood libel” not because McCain accused someone of complicity in murder, but because McCain criticized “activist judges” (emphasis mine):
“In a campaign speech Tuesday outlining his judicial philosophy, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain offered his supporters – and/or the conservative wing of his party – only more of the same tired and empty rhetoric that has come over the past few decades to mark the mindless partisanship over the appointment of federal judges. It was as though he had been given a list of misguided clichés about the judiciary and its role in constitutional theory and dared by his handlers to read them all in a single speech on a single stump.
Did McCain repeat the Shibboleth about “activist judges” and how they are ruining the meaning of the law? You bet he did. Of “activist lawyers and activist judges” McCain said: “They want to be spared the inconvenience of campaigns, elections, legislative votes and all of that. They don’t seek to win debates on the merits of their argument; they seek to shut down debates by order of the court. And even in courtrooms, they apply a double standard. Some federal judges operate by fiat, shrugging off generations of legal wisdom and precedent while expecting their own opinions to go unquestioned.”
I wonder if the Arizona senator and his speech writers know that the late, great conservative polestar, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, and perhaps the most popular Supreme Court Justice of all time, Republican-nominee Sandra Day O’Connor, both expressed disdain for the threat of the “activist judge” charge. After all, a judge acts anytime he or she does or does not make a ruling, whether the ultimate result is considered “liberal” or “conservative” or something in between. So-called “judicial activism” occurs, in other words, when it’s your side that lost the case and it is nothing short of a blood libel against judges to accuse them of operating by fiat.“
Surely Cohen knows his own history of columns. He was aware enough to point out his use of the term “blood libel” as to Ward Churchill in 2005.
Did Cohen not remember that Cohen accused John McCain, the Republican nominee for President, of a blood libel for having criticized “activist judges”?
If Cohen so casually threw around the term “blood libel” in the heat of a presidential election, who is Cohen now to attack Sarah Palin for using the term as to false accusations that she caused the murder of several people in Tucson?
For such rank hypocrisy, Andrew Cohen is the Official Award winner.
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