After refusing to do so for seven days, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois finally apologized for insulting his country.
It is truly maddening to have the Senate Minority Whip, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, compare our military prisons to the concentration camps of Hitler and Pol Pot. It is reprehensible that the so-called "mainstream media" chose largely to ignore it. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised, given their track record. They also ignored Washington Sen. Patty Murray in December 2003, when she stirred up outrage by claiming Osama bin Laden was very popular with Arabs because he was building schools and day-care facilities. At least Sen. Murray wasn't being covered on television when she put her high heel in her mouth.
Sen. Durbin stood on the Senate floor before the microphones and cameras on C-SPAN and claimed after reading an e-mail from an FBI agent about terrible conditions for Muslim detainees at Guantanamo, "you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners."
Conservative activists and Republican politicians were upset and pounding the table to bring it to public attention almost immediately. This outrage was largely ignored by the national media, who were still fussing over John Bolton saying in 1994 that you could take 10 floors off the U.N. building and no one would notice.
The New York Times have been relentless in their focus on the alleged failings of John Bolton, but they've been buried so deep in a Democratic tank that they've barely touched the notion that Dr. Dean has a mouthiness problem and handled Durbin's rant with tiny three-paragraph items that whispered "this is hardly newsworthy."
The networks agreed. The morning shows on ABC, CBS and NBC were silent. So were the evening shows on ABC and CBS. "NBC Nightly News" had one mention -- but painted Durbin as the victim of White House attacks. Substitute anchor Campbell Brown said: "And the war of words over the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, continued today with the White House attacking a Democratic senator for comparing interrogation tactics at Guantanamo Bay ... to those used by the Nazis, the Soviets, and the Khmer Rouge." Brown noted White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan called Durbin's comments "beyond belief," but was not about to mention that the Bush spokesman wasn't asked about Durbin until 26 minutes into a 33-minute briefing, and he was not asked by the major media.
So how does media coverage of Durbin's Nazi/Gulag/Pol Pot reference compare to previous Republican gaffes? Let's dial the calendar back 10 years to 1995. On Jan. 27 of that year, House Majority Whip Dick Armey, misspoke in a briefing with reporters by calling gay Rep. Barney Frank "Barney Fag." That's nothing like Durbin, who said what he said with careful preparation and melodramatic emphasis. But the "CBS Evening News": made the Armey blunder its No. 1 story that night. ABC's "World News Tonight" promoted the outrage in its opening seconds. A few minutes later, anchor Catherine Crier told viewers the GOP whip may have betrayed "deep prejudice," and "Mr. Armey wields enormous power over all kinds of legislation, including laws that deal with discrimination and civil rights. What Mr. Armey says matters."
But Sen. Durbin is the Democratic whip in the Senate, albeit the Minority Whip. Where is ABC insisting to viewers that "what Mr. Durbin says matters"?
Or consider another senator in hot water 10 years ago. In April of 1995, Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, in a very clumsy attempt at humor on the Don Imus radio show, mocked the judge in the O.J. Simpson case, Lance Ito, with a cheesy Japanese accent. The network news went right to work underlining the deep seriousness of D'Amato's failed attempt at comedy. NBC's "Today" show broadcast a interview with then-Democratic congressman Norman Mineta, complete with co-host Katie Couric explaining with great solemnity that Mr. Mineta and his family were interned by their own country in World War II.
But where was Katie Couric to underline Durbin's far more serious offense by inviting a refugee of Pol Pot's Cambodia or the Nazi death camps for some jarring context? It didn't happen. She was too busy interviewing "runaway bride" Jennifer Wilbanks.
Durbin has finally apologized for his outrageous affront. He did not apologize due to pressure from the so-called "mainstream media." He did so because some Americans heard it on cable news, talk radio or the Internet, outlets ever more reliable at the business of reporting news than their counterparts, who have lost sight of their most basic responsibilities.