Monday, June 07, 2010

Chuck and Helen and Pat and Fred

In 2002, Michael Moore interviewed Charlton Heston for his film Bowling for Columbine. During the interview the actor said part of the reason the United States has many more gun deaths than other developed countries was because the United States "probably has more mixed ethnicity than other countries."

Remember, Heston was president--and a national spokesman--for the National Rifle Association at the time and remained in that position for a year after the film came out.

Yet The American Prospect excused Heston's racist statement, claiming Moore "harass(ed) a stooped and elderly Charlton Heston at his Hollywood home." This was, in fact, the general response to the interview. The ever-thoughtful Roger Ebert called it an "ambush." Everyone decided that making a big deal out of a small comment by a man who was 77 at the time of the interview was unconscionable.

Certainly Heston's announcement--around the time of the movie's release--that he had symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's made people feel sorry for the man, but Moore had no knowledge of the fact when he began the interview and, I hate to say, racist statements are not a symptom of Alzheimer's. The disease can, though, lead to a decrease in inhibitions. In other words, Alzheimer's doesn't make one more racist, but it does make one more likely to give voice to racist feelings with a wayward statement.

Yet, over and over again people said Moore was wrong to show the interview with Heston. Chris Ayres wrote in The London Times Online the interview "arguably backfired on Moore, eliciting sympathy for the frail and, by then, somewhat confused actor."

While Heston does look elderly in the video, he doesn't seem confused and, again, he went on to serve as the NRA president into 2003.

I bring up this old story because people went out of their way to excuse Heston's statement because of his age. Google "elderly Charlton Heston" and "michael moore" and you'll find Moore gets the short end of the stick on this argument. I have to admit I even agree with most of those who chastise Michael Moore because I feel like Heston was being nice and got suckered into a wild comment and, yes, I admit I forgive a certain amount of racism in the elderly. So Heston got away with making a horrible comment because of his age.

Yet, when journalistic icon Helen Thomas makes a similarly wild comment and says the Jews should "get out of Palestine" and go back to Poland, Germany, etc., no one seems willing to allow her a similar amount of leeway. Heston was 77. Thomas is 89.

The press attacked her, she resigned and Abe Foxman argues the statement should lead to a renaming of an award named for the journalism pioneer. And the organization which presents the award might actually do it.

I'm not excusing Thomas' statement. But it is worth wondering how Michael Moore got pilloried for his interview with the "elderly Charlton Heston" (or, at least, using the interview) and Rabbi David Nesenoff is getting plaudits for using Thomas' statement to drive traffic to his site.

Meanwhile, somewhere in D.C., Pat Buchanan is probably preparing for his next appearance on the liberal MSNBC (while the right has his back). Nixon's "Jew counter" Fred Malek is getting off work at his current gig, as chairman of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's Commission on Government Reform or making a few calls as an adviser to Sarah Palin (with Abe Foxman's blessing).

Apparently everything, even racism and anti-Semitism, is OK if you're a conservative.


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