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Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Missile Madness

by Clinton Fein

Columnist Andrew Sullivan is pissed off, as is Salon's David Talbot. And confusion over censorship and duty appears to be at the root of the misunderstanding, along with a good dose of self-righteousness on both sides. It all started, or at least some of it, when Sullivan began criticizing an interview conducted by Talbot with Susan Sontag in which she discussed the strong reaction to some of her own insights on America's and the media's response to the terrorist attack and war, which were published in The New Yorker. Yep, the rebuilding has begun.

Sullivan, as Talbot points out, is on a crusade against anyone who isn't sig heiling the Bush-Rumsfeld-Ashcroft axis's relentless bombing of Afghanistan. Raging against anyone daring to veer from the "With Us Like It or Not" thought paradigm being enforced by Ari Fleischer in his Prada jackboots. Angrily denouncing "the left" as if there's really a "line in the sand" that differentiates any of the hot air swirling above it. (Yes, we need to be more careful how we use the word 'crusade.' Perhaps 'personal jihad' would be more appropriate.)

And of course columnists and editors -- who do not view themselves bound by faux objectivity anyway - are carelessly tossing around words like censorship without understanding the true meaning, which is just as annoying as vicious personal attacks. Talbot touts the diversity of Salon's publishing choices from Camille Paglia to David Horowitz and Sullivan himself in response to the latter's accusation of intolerance of conservative dissent in Salon.

"Pampered journalists who have never seen a moment of real censorship in their lives, and who have marginalized conservative voices for their entire careers in their own organs and field of influence, take the occasion of the massacre of thousands of their fellow citizens to worry about themselves -- and preen self-righteously at the same time," preened Sullivan self-righteously, inspiring a self-righteous retaliation by Talbot.

"[Our] ancestors fought and died for the right of free speech. During every crisis in our country's history, this freedom is the first to be challenged by self-proclaimed patriots as a threat to national security. If the press and the public don't fight for freedom of speech at times like these, it will quickly become a hollow right," declared Talbot polemically.

Talbot would no doubt tout Salon's participation in a class action suit challenging the Children's Online Protection Act (COPA) as testament to his commitment to free speech although he never quite realized that the Communications Decency Act that preceded it was never properly struck down and governs him to this day. He would sooner examine the nuances of Henry Hyde's penis than privacy or censorship. Columnists playing freedom fighters can be fun sport indeed, especially while real journalists like Britain's Yvonne Ridley are taking extraordinary risks like sneaking into Afghanistan to get to the truth.

And so began the attack -- a pissing match that escalated to the point where each is clutching his flag and demonstrating increasingly odder displays of patriotic envy and nationalistic insecurity. Stoking the fires, Talbot boasted of his defense of Sullivan: "Earlier this year, Sullivan was exposed by the gay press for advertising for "bareback" sex (unprotected by condoms) in an AOL chat room and denounced as a hypocrite by his liberal gay critics for engaging in risky sexual practices after attacking President Clinton for his own incautious behavior."

Talbot reiterated Salon's condemnation of the invasion of Sullivan's sexual privacy and the political motivations behind it by reintroducing the invasion. He lobbied a potshot at FreeRepublic.com for whom Sullivan also writes. "It wasn't FreeRepublic.com that rallied around Sullivan; those conservative 'enclaves' are too busy tossing kindling on the pyres to burn the sodomites. Their latest cause is blasting the Bush administration for apologizing on behalf of the Navy crewmen who painted 'hijack this, fags' on missiles headed toward Afghanistan."

The gay liberal critics Talbot refers to, such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the Human Rights Campaign are the ones for whom censorship is a misunderstood term and hypocritical weapon to be brandished at anyone who dares question their power grabbing to advance the interests of rich, white, pampered homosexuals. The fervor with which Talbot accuses Sullivan of attacking his critics provides a glimpse of how organizations like GLAAD attack. Or gay activists turned corporate puppets with delusions of martyrdom like Michelangelo Signorile, who first attacked Sullivan over the "barebacking" on Planet Out -- a questionably viable web publication targeting a gay audience.

I did a little testing myself in the wake of Signorile's stinging attack on Sullivan. I asked him via email: "How do you respond to the accusations against Wall Street Journal's columnist Kara Swisher's alleged conflict of interest in writing about the Silicon Valley companies that invest in Planet Out of which her girlfriend, Megan Smith is CEO, and the impact such accusations have on the credibility of gay journalism in general?" Predictably, no answer.

I even tried giving Signorile an excuse to decline responding to my questions without being perceived as unable to, since he had justified his outing of Sullivan's sex life with this gem from the self-righteousness department: "Sullivan and I, like many writers and commentators, have been critical of one another precisely because of our differences over ideas-ideas that this particular story intersects and underscores. Deciding not to write and report on an important topic about someone with whom I have had some differences simply because it might appear personal would be shirking responsibility."

Indeed, I agreed: "In your efforts to avoid the shirking of responsibility, would you write about the private behind-the-scenes of [Planet Out parent] Online Partners to the extent the information does not violate any non disclosure agreements you may have signed, but could be very much in the interests of the gay community as you define it?" No response. Cowards usually don't.

A friend of mine was asked to address the audience at a GLAAD event in San Francisco, and I went along for the sport, doubting anyone would enquire about some scathing criticism I had recently leveled at GLAAD over their pathetic attempts to silence Eminem and ostracize Elton John. And some free Vodka at the expense of political correctness. To my surprise, GLAAD Executive Director, Joan Garry, in her keynote address, launched into a shrill diatribe about this annoying web site that had accused GLAAD of being annoying or something as astute. Adopting GLAAD's annoyance as a badge of honor she went on to inspire the Vodka laced audience as to how GLAAD had been successfully annoying enough to shut down Doctor Laura's TV show - the anti-Gentile Doctor who's moral high ground lies somewhere between Sullivan's asscheeks plastered on the Internet and Jerry Falwell's mother waiting for him -- her legs spread -- in a Penthouse outhouse.

At a VIP party afterwards, I introduced myself to her and told her why annoyance is indeed a freedom she deserves the right to enjoy and that she should consider thanking me for legally clarifying it, rather than failing to take heed of the valid criticisms on annoy.com. Flustered, she made shallow promises to contact me expressing how much she would love to discuss it further. Another coward.

While Talbot blasts Sullivan for failing to blast the conservatives for blasting the Bush administration for apologizing on behalf of the Navy "crewmen" who painted anti-gay slurs on a missile, GLAAD is blasting Associated Press for pulling the image that revealed the slur in the wake of complaints by none other than gay groups in Washington.

During war, attention to grammar, spelling and, of course, to political correctness tend to take a back seat. (Unless you are Bill Maher). The crewman (probably singular) actually painted "Highjack this fags." (see image) rather than the grammatically sanitized, correctly spelled "hijack this, fags" version Talbot placed in quotations in his attack on Sullivan attributing the Navy incident to more than one perpetrator without the insight of fact. Associated Press pulled the image quicker than you could say "Richard Jewell" probably hoping to avoid receiving the same treatment Paramount did for agreeing to air Doctor Laura.

But GLAAD changed tactics without remembering to tell anyone, and was not satisfied. "We appreciate the timely efforts by The Associated Press to address this issue, but this image should be explained and discussed, not hidden from view," said Ms. Garry in a haughty press release. How about exposure to the issues raised by that demented Doctor Laura then? Or Eminem?

The missile image hardly captures the essence of what the policy represents for gays in the military any more than "Life's a Bitch" would represent a deliberate sanction of the misogynistic hell being suffered by the potential collateral damage resulting from a missed target. Given the "Stop Loss" policy the military employs in wartime -- suspending gay discharges until after the war -- as well as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" which actually allows gays to serve -- albeit in the closet -- the missile might have just as easily have been written on by a couple of pissed off queens with an all-too-understandable grudge against Osama bin Laden and the epithet a self-empowering reclamation intended as a signature: "Highjack this! - Fags." Or a territorial claim to a stoned servicemember named Jack by a servicemember with an aversion to possessive pronouns. Does anyone really care about the content of missile graffiti? Oh the horror of suffering the indignity of being blown to bits by a bomb or missile that calles you a fag on top of it.

The issue of gays in the military is a complex one to be sure, and the military still has much to learn and a long way to go, as does the Bush administration. Of course a gay servicemember viewing that message on the missile would have cause for alarm. Deconstruction of this image is not the panacea, however, and GLAAD is neither experienced nor equipped enough to be leading this battle. Groups like the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and gay veterans are, and should be.

We keep being told that the world has changed since September 11. Rich white gays should continue to donate to GLAAD though, so that tax write offs can fund seminars like "Instruction for politically correct messaging on bombs and missiles." Perhaps the Navy will match the donation or adopt the seminar. How can we possibly contemplate missile defense shields when we haven't learnt missile message etiquette?

Truth is, one can still love much of what America represents without having to jump in line and sing to the tune of Rummy, John Ashcroft or George W. Bush. One can still reserve scorn and disdain for their exploitative rush to trample civil liberties without debate (or a provision to even reflect upon what might be a rush decision two or four years from now). Or raise one's eyebrows at the House tearing away in panic over anthrax with their gas masks urging us to shop and spend in between the wheezing while climbing aboard planes they already know are protected.

One can still mock rank amateurs like Ari Fleischer or express concern over the danger of blind patriotism and unquestioning nationalism. And one can still revile the likes of thankfully former congressmen like Jesse Helms, Phil Gramm or Sam Nunn without it suggesting an invisible nod to Osama bin Laden, what he stands for, represents (in spite of his claims) and his methodologies. Or tell Andrew Sullivan to go fuck himself if he doesn't like a particular brand of patriotism that doesn't match his without feeling a need to justify your own.

Talbot concludes his defensive tirade with a hint of a truce. However, the unstated "my dick, power and patriotism are bigger than yours and don't you forget it," screams far more loudly from between the lines.

"He is right to be furious" Talbot writes," The country has suffered a grievous blow -- one stunning in its premeditated wickedness -- and we are still being afflicted with threats to our security. The terrorist assault demands and is receiving a ferocious response. But it also demands that we all think deeply and carefully about how to make the country and the world safer, not just scream in outrage."

Bullshit. Scream! These guys need to grab a few of the idiots at GLAAD, put on some hardhats and go help haul some fucking rubble.


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