Al Franken has a great post on the Wellstone and Coretta Scott King memorial services. This is why the quality of news coverage matters so much... the "first draft of history" is often wrong, and inaccurate takes on important stories become crystalized, turned into memes, and later accepted unquestioningly as part of the conventional wisdom. When I saw any footage of the Wellstone memorial, one of the only clips the news showed was Mark Wellstone speaking passionately, and as I recall, politically. As the critical comments about the memorial started flowing in, my first thought was, jeez, man, give him a break, he's just lost both his parents and his sister. I think we can cut the guy some slack.
Of course, that didn't happen. As Franken says, "reasonable people of good will were genuinely offended," and I understand that. But all that could easily be solved with a simple apology later. Where was the prominent conservative standing up to say, "let's remember Mark Wellstone's devastating loss and support him rather than criticizing him?" And, come on, Paul Wellstone was an extremely passionate man and one of the most progressive Senator our country had. How does one not get a bit political honoring a man, his wife, his daughter and their aides who have dedicated themselves to securing health care for mental illness, eliminating poverty, and achieving social justice?
The news coverage did go on to point out that most of the memorial was very civil. Still, they pulled the familiar old second-rate hack trick of playing up the "controversy" only to half-heartedly dismiss it.
Down in Atlanta, similar issues played out. How, for instance, does one honor Coretta Scott King and avoid mentioning her anti-war stance, her anti-poverty initiaves, and those pesky civil rights? More to the point, why the hell should anyone involved in the memorial service bother worrying if some conservative is "offended" by the mention of the deceased's legacy?
I also have to wonder why the hell anti-feminist Kate O'Beirne was on Hardball to comment on the King memorial service. I mean, she's not as bad as David Duke, but come on. She calls Jimmy Carter "shameful" and possibly our worst post-president? She conveniently ignores the fact that Carter, like King's husband MLK, won the Nobel Peace Prize? She conveniently overlooks that Carter was a family friend? I doubt very much that the O'Beirne weas marching in Selma.
In contrast, Reagan in his death suddenly became, listening to commentators, one of our greatest presidents ever and a virtual saint on earth. Everyone's due their good press, especially when they die, but the networks were not lining up liberals to discuss Reagan... it was all conservatives, just as shamelessly it was a parade of former Nixon aides decrying Mark Felt when his identity as Deep Throat was revealed, and a host of conservative commentators sniping at Wellstone and King's memorials. Since when do political enemies get to seize the microphone and deliver the eulogy? Mark Shields and either David Brooks or Paul Gigot spoke of Wellstone on the Newshour right after his untimely death. Shields spoke passionately, and his counterpart (Brooks or Gigot) also spoke of the enormous personal respect Wellstone had won from some of his staunchest opponents.
For those people who are offended by the 23-second standing ovation Reverend Lowery got at King's memorial when he declared there were no "weapons of mass destruction" - guess what. You weren't the audience for those words. Deal with it. Of course, you could also do as CNN and Fox News did, and edit out the standing ovation and applause and fail to indicate that to the viewers at home... but those attending the memorial were there to honor King, not Bush. Bush was a guest. One could say he should be treated civily. One could also look at him as a party crasher. Why the hell should anyone censor themselves for Bush's sake? Does that honor King? Is he really so fragile he can't take some honest, on-target criticism? Do something to improve the Katrina reconstruction, then we'll talk.
I side with those folks who believe civility is nice, but it should never supercede civil rights.