Picture this: a speaker at a crowded public forum referring to his audience as "Tim McVeigh wannabes" -- and receiving enthusiastic applause after saying it.
Two possibilities come to mind. First, the audience consists mainly of those aspiring to membership in militias and hence their approval for being described this way. Or, much more likely, the speaker is being facetious and describing audience members as disparaged by those not sharing their politics.
Naturally, radio host Ed Schultz -- he of the shoot-first, play-dumb-later school of rhetoric -- pounced on the first scenario as the only possible explanation.
In the wake of an alleged scandal that appears unlikely to destroy Sean Hannity's reputation, liberals like Schultz aren't wasting time trying to manufacture a second scandal based on Hannity's remarks last week at the Reagan Library.
Here's Schultz describing it on his radio show last Thursday (click here for audio) --
SCHULTZ: This is Sean Hannity broadcasting remotely on his radio show the other day at the Reagan Library. Here's what he said --
HANNITY: I think we won the debate.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: We did win the debate.
HANNITY: When you think of the vast majorities that they have in Congress, and they had to bribe, backroom deals, corruption. That's all because the tea party movement, the people, all these Tim McVeigh wannabes here. You know, as I said. (applause)
SCHULTZ: All these Tim McVeigh wannabes here. And he gets a hand, a round of applause. Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City, killed almost 200 people, and was put to death, executed. I mean, sometimes I think that broadcasters, we become so close to the story or so ideologically bent in one direction or another, we don't even realize what the heck we're saying.
A bellicose Schultz revisited this in the following hour (click here for audio) --
SCHULTZ: All right now, I want to get to this comment and someone was kind enough to transcribe this Hannity comment for me. How reckless it can get. Now he's interviewing this congressman at the Reagan library . I know we can play the soundcut but I want to read it. This is what, in the midst of the conversation, and they're talking about the health care debate, law. (Schultz mimics Hannity) Can I add one thing? I think we won the debate. (chuckles, then continues quoting Hannity) When you think of the vast majorities that they have in the Congress, and they have had to bribe, backroom deals, corruption, all because the tea party movement, the people, all these Tim McVeigh wannabes here.
Tim McVeigh was a murderer. He was a terrorist. He was captured, he was convicted, he was executed. How else do you interpret that comment?
Schultz proceeded to quote Hannity again, "in the midst of the conversation with a congressman at the Reagan Library," followed by this --
SCHULTZ: And then of course the crowd starts yelling and the applause comes from the crowd. Little did the crowd know that they were being thrown in there with a terrorist who had been executed. Let's play the soundcut. Here it is --
... followed by audio replay of Hannity's remarks, and Schultz saying this --
SCHULTZ: You know, as I said. I mean, if that isn't psycho talk I don't know what is. Now, the people that were out there applauding, did they actually hear what he said? Or did they just get a feel from the radio host, oh gosh, he's talking about us, we've all made a difference.This is where it has to be reeled in. Hannity likes to say that he's all about intellectual honesty. Buddy, you got a TV show that's pretty damn big. You need to reel that one in. You need to clarify what you meant by that.
Do you really think Tim McVeigh did good things, Sean Hannity? Do you really believe -- do you really believe -- that those children who were killed in the federal building in Oklahoma City, that that was a good thing?!
Notice how Schultz -- twice -- referred to Hannity speaking with a "congressman" at the Reagan Library. This was my initial impression as well -- until I searched for a video of the discussion on YouTube. Searching under "hannity" and "reagan library," this video came up on top -- and as it clearly shows at the beginning of the clip, Hannity spoke with two congressmen, not one (Republicans Kevin McCarthy and David Dreier, both of California; Hannity's remarks can be found close to end of the clip).
Over the weekend I went again through Schultz radio show on Thursday to see if Schultz ever referred to Hannity speaking with more than one congressman that day at the Reagan Library. He did not, nor did any of his callers. In other words, Schultz condemned Hannity while being too lazy to call up a video of the discussion which might have shed more light on what Hannity meant. (Then again, maybe Schultz did this but did not to divulge it).
As it turns out, one of Schultz's callers, a courtly gent from Texas, provided Schultz with an accurate take on Hannity's remarks (click here for audio) --
SCHULTZ: Randy in Texas, you're on the Ed Schultz show, thanks for calling.
CALLER: Thank you. I was calling in response to the clip that you played by Sean Hannity. I had not heard it 'til you played it, but I am confident that I know what was probably meant. I have heard and I can't remember who said it, but I've heard the tea party people likened to Timothy McVeigh wannabes by folks on the left. And I'm sure that probably he said that taking a dig at those who call the tea party people the Timothy McVeigh wannabes.
I can understand very much how that the left would have a very bitter taste in their mouths towards the righties if you think that we would honestly admire someone like Tim McVeigh. I mean, if you think that we really admire someone like that, I can understand all the vitriol. But Ed, it comes from both sides.
Schultz and the caller talked about the extent to which extreme rhetoric is heard on both ends of the political spectrum, with Schultz then saying this in response to the caller's interpretation of Hannity's remarks --
SCHULTZ: It's interesting you just said that, Randy, because it plays right into what we were talking about the first 90 minutes of this program today, is that it generates a sense, an atmosphere to the point where we accept that this is the way this side is and that side is, because, well if they haven't said it, I'm sure they have. The assumption becomes almost factual with many Americans, which is really dangerous.
Then stop doing it, Ed, lest you become any more dangerous.