Sunday, April 10, 2005

When two assailants attacked conservative columnist Ann Coulter with pies while she was giving a speech at the University of Arizona in October, most people, including the speaker, dismissed it as a prank. When an enraged protester threw his shoe at former Pentagon adviser Richard Perle during a debate with Howard Dean, crying “Liar, liar,” in February, it was quickly forgotten. Earlier this month, when assailants tossed pies and salad dressing at conservatives William Kristol and Patrick Buchanan at two separate campus events, the media played it as a joke. But when another pie thrower lobbed his projectile at conservative activist David Horowitz last week at Butler University, the speaker took a moment to bring up a very serious point. “There’s a wave of violence on college campuses, committed by what I’d call fascists opposing conservatives,” he said. “It’s one step from that to injury.”

Consider the case of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn. In 2002, he was on the verge of a general-election victory. About a month before the election, protesters had thrown two cream pies laced with urine in Mr. Fortuyn’s face. The Dutch media dismissed this as non-violent protest. Mr. Fortuyn, however, began expressing fears for his safety. Just a week before the election he was shot to death.

This is not to suggest that those who have attacked conservatives here will one day swap their pies for guns. But someone else with less conscience might. That’s because once violence, however harmless it at first appears, is accepted as an appropriate means of protest, it tends to escalate.

The media should highlight these cases not as the jokes they are perhaps intended to be, but as unacceptable perversions of the First Amendment. So far, however, the mainstream media has failed to do so. It also gave scant attention to last year’s election-oriented violence directed almost solely against Republicans. Perpetrators shot at Bush-Cheney campaign headquarters and attacked volunteers and destroyed campaign offices across the country, to cite a few examples. But news organizations such as the New York Times instead provided a platform to those making dubious charges of voter intimidation committed by the Republicans.

Violence, of course, should be intolerable no matter who is on the receiving end, and must be rejected by people of goodwill, whatever their political ideology. It is ironic that college campuses — which typically style themselves as bastions of free speech and tolerance — are increasingly the scene of intolerant, thuggish behavior. These days it is being directed at folks who don’t subscribe to the prevailing liberal orthodoxies.

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