Fox News chairman Roger Ailes has apologized to the Anti-Defamation League for comments he made comparing NPR executives to “Nazis.” The ADL accepted the mea culpa pretty quickly (too quickly, some say), but there is still a great deal of criticism of Ailes emanating from the media.
“The ADL has repeatedly placed its alliance with Israel’s supporters over its stated reason for existence, and excused inexcusable instances of bigotry, even anti-Semitism,” wrote Ben Adler at Newsweek. “The most recent example is the league’s quick forgiveness of Ailes.”
Adler is right that Ailes’s comments were off-base. But to call his words anti-Semitic is not just an extreme overreaction; it’s also outrageously unfair. A single foolish statement can’t be examined in a vacuum. Ailes’s consistent public support for Israel is a major indicator of his respect for the Jewish community. In fact, the award he received from the Jewish Community Relations Council in 2005 says just that.
Moreover, Ailes’s initial statement needs to be examined in context. The Fox News chairman said that NPR executives were “of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude.” He didn’t praise Nazism. He didn’t claim that Nazis never existed. He didn’t accuse Jews of running the media, pushing the U.S. into international wars on behalf of Israel, bamboozling non-Jews out of money, or other such nonsense that regularly erupts from the mouths of vicious anti-Semites.
Again, that’s not to say that Ailes’s words were acceptable. The Fox News Channel has a longstanding problem with its use of Nazi comparisons. Glenn Beck has been a repeat offender, likening aspects of the progressive movement to the Third Reich, while Bill O’Reilly has previously described the Huffington Post’s comment policy as “the same exact tactics that the Nazis used.” (Of course, conservatives aren’t alone in these remarks. The political left has also made its fair share of Nazi comparisons.)
But perhaps by apologizing, Ailes is acknowledging that this type of rhetoric is problematic. It will be interesting to see if he also re-evaluates the nature of the comments thrown out so casually by his network’s hosts.