LOS ANGELES –
The other day, liberal talk radio host Randi Rhodes was reportedly out walking her dog when she fell and hit her head. She didn’t remember what happened, which led at least one of her colleagues, and countless bloggers, to speculate that she had literally been a victim of the Right-wing hit machine.
Not so, as it turned out. No one hit her, Right wing or otherwise. She fell. The colleague who had ranted about the Right attacking her apologized and took it all back.
End of story? Not quite. The next day, I appeared on Hannity and Colmes to discuss it all. Wasn’t this another instance of the Left-wing hate machine in action, trying to silence talk radio hosts of the Right, seeing violence when there was none, and spewing their own version of it?
Would the Right have done exactly the same thing if, God forbid, it had been Bill O’Reilly, and not Randi Rhodes, who fell on a city street?
Does the Left have any monopoly on paranoia, on trying to silence those with whom they disagree? On vicious assaults, at least of the verbal sort?
Not even close.
In fact, the radio airwaves are dominated by conservatives and those to their Right. I can’t listen to most of them, which leaves me very few people to listen to. You’d think the market, if it worked half as well as my conservative friends claim, and if I’m not alone, would respond with some choices. But it doesn’t, mostly because no one gets fired for imitating what works (Rush and Sean) rather than trying something new.
Now, in my book, that’s no reason to try to legislate “balance” as defined by a collection of bureaucrats from either side of the aisle. What are we going to do, insist that anti-Semites and Israel-haters get an hour for every hour Michael Medved is on? I certainly hope not.
But the paranoia that’s out there now runs deep on both sides, and it’s being fed by the very people who claim, with reason, to be its victims.
Randi Rhodes’ friends aren’t the only ones to assume that if something happens, it isn’t an accident. I’ve had conservative friends say exactly the same thing to me. Anyone who opines in public is likely to be the daily recipient of the sort of e-mail you wouldn’t want your children to know you get. I go out of my way to try to criticize the message and not the messenger, to respectfully disagree, to treat people with respect even if I don’t necessarily feel it. I believe civility is more important than almost any of the actual issues we debate, and that our ability to get along and find common ground is more important, in the long run, than any of the differences that divide us.
Does this mean I get nicer e-mail, fewer threatening calls, more respect from the people I try to respect? Not for a minute.
Last year, my car got “keyed” in the parking lot of a media organization (no, not FOX) where I was appearing to promote my pro-Hillary book. Probably not an accident, one of the guards said to me, when he realized I was that woman.
His words were more chilling than the key marks, which cost me a fortune to fix. I was glad my kids weren’t with me that day. But they’ve been with me when I’ve been chased across the Target parking lot by a woman screaming that I was a “baby killer,” and when I was left a threatening package upon arrival in a hotel where I was supposed to give a speech.
Don’t worry, I always say, as if I don’t.
My assistants have been screening my correspondence for years-- not because I’m a prima donna, but because it’s pretty uncomfortable to be sitting in your bedroom at night reading hate mail from people you’ve never met, particularly if your kids are looking over your shoulders.
I know lots of people, on all sides, who have resorted to full-time security as the price of participating in public discourse. Some of them are liberals and some are conservatives; bad manners, vulgarity, and even threats of violence cross ideological lines. I’m very good friends with my local police.
The Internet has given everyone a place to hide when they show their worst sides. It’s given those of us who try to engage in some semblance of discourse an eyeful of what they’re not really hiding, and turned good manners into an anachronism.
I try hard to answer every letter I get, provided it is not obscene. It doesn’t sound like a very high standard, but believe me, it is. I’m happy to engage with those who want to engage, but if it’s name-calling you’re into, count me out. One station manager told me years ago that I’d be a lot more popular if I screamed more. He was probably right.
So, yes, the Left was wrong to seize on Randi Rhodes’ injuries as an occasion to attack the Right. But the Right is wrong too, in using the attacks to justfy the launch of a new barrage against the Left.
Sadly, that’s the way the game is played these days. And so long as it is, no one is really safe.
Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.