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Posted at 9:46 AM ET, 01/21/2011

Megyn Kelly and the Nazi question: when -- and who -- can use the word?

By Melissa Bell
Megyn Kelly
Megyn Kelly (Courtesy of Fox News Channel)

Megyn Kelly, of Fox News, said on Thursday that she doesn't think the civility ban requested by President Obama should extend to cable news hosts or radio hosts -- only to lawmakers.

In front of a mostly empty House floor on Tuesday, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) made an impassioned speech against the health care repeal. In the midst of his speech, Cohen ran smack into Godwin's law: he likened the term "government takeover of health care" to the "a big lie, just like Goebbels."

Definition of Godwin's Law: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."

The law has left the message boards of the Internet and infiltrated the national discourse. Jewish groups and equality groups slammed Cohen's statements and on Thursday he issued a statement to the Post, saying he regretted that his words distracted from the debate.

On Thursday, Megyn Kelly talked about the Cohen incident with Equality Matters President Richard Socarides.

Socrarides said the Nazi comments were used often by Fox network hosts.

"That's just not true," Kelly said.

Media Matters, the watchdog group with a serious dislike for Fox News, cited 28 incidents of Nazi imagery being used by Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, New Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and Fox Chairman Roger Ailes going back as far as 2004.

The report cited Beck in particular, who has used Nazi imagery in discussing the automobile industry bailouts, Gore's fight against climate change, and the recession.

Toward the end of Thursday's news segment, Kelly changed her argument from denying cable news hosts used similar terms, to saying, "I don't think you can compare cable news to a U.S. congressman in the well of the house."

"Where should there be a higher standard?" Socarides asked.

She said Obama's call for civility was meant for lawmakers, not necessarily for "cable talk show hosts, radio hosts and everybody else."

What do you think? Should there be a ban of Nazi imagery for lawmakers? Or for everyone engaged in public discourse? Is it time to end Godwin's law?

Use #naziban to tell us who should or shouldn't be able to use any imagery related to the Holocaust.

Here's the news segment:

Here's the tape of Rep. Cohen:

By Melissa Bell  | January 21, 2011; 9:46 AM ET
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Re: Megyn Kelly and the Nazi question: when -- and who -- can use the word?
Posted at 9:46 AM ET, 01/21/2011
Megan Kelly says, "Obama's call for civility was meant for lawmakers, not necessarily for "cable talk show hosts, radio hosts and everybody else." My question then is what about Roger Ayles ...request that his on-air people "tone down the rhetoric"?

Posted by: Jslockbower | January 21, 2011 12:35 PM | Report abuse

If conservatives can call liberals socialists, commies and pinkos then liberals reserve the right to call conservatives nazis, fascists and reactionaries.

However, conservatives can't Bogart both epithets, especially because they are closer on the political spectrum to the fascists.

Posted by: richardmorin | January 21, 2011 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Godwin's Law really applies to an escalating argument in which one of the participants resorts to calling another a "Nazi" out of frustration and a lack of creativity. It doesn't apply to a single person giving a speech. I suppose, though, that someone will read this comment and call me a "Godwin's Law Nazi."

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | January 21, 2011 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Um, calling people Nazis is only appropriate when you are discussing actual Nazis.

However, nobody is bound to what is appropriate, so I'm not holding my breath until civility takes over. But it would be nice if most people believed, and made it clear, that such hyperbole is rarely effective, and often unappreciated, if not downright offensive.

Of course, the idiots who toss the word around liberally won't care. They aren't interested in accuracy or rational discourse, they wouldn't go that route to begin with.

Posted by: AnnieDC | January 21, 2011 1:31 PM | Report abuse

I thought there was some corrolary to Godwin's law that the first person to mention Nazi or Hitler loses. It's great during an argument, they mention Nazi you can just say "I win" and walk away.

Posted by: jhtlag1 | January 21, 2011 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone here have the impression that Nazi refers only to the Jewish holocaust?

Who were all those German soldiers who
fought, killing all those AMERICAN SOLDIERS, like so many of our ancestors in WORLD WAR II. Why the narrow definition?

Never passes a day that some Jewish coolumnist or newspaper doesn't write about the Holocuast, as though it happened last month.
SO ONE could well assume that the use of NAZI (by that congressman and others) is part of the same thing.

Or shall we accept was WWII, too only about Jews.

Posted by: whistling | January 21, 2011 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Seems to me that people who use this word have been indoctrinated by communist ideology.
I base that on what actually happened in Germany during Hitler's rise to power.
German Marxists were divided between Leninists, who advocated a bloody, worldwide revolution that would bring the "Red Dawn," and the National Socialists who, like today's Communist Chinese, tolerate the "bourgeoisie" middle class, foster BigBusiness-Govt cartels, and harbor imperialist ambitions.
In this context, a communist calling someone a "fascist" is basically calling him a traitor to Marxist ideals.
So, in 2011 America, any use of this word only betrays a spirit of fear, rage and ignorance.
Oh, and let's not forget, Hitler slaughtered 12 million Jews, Catholics, Gypsys, and others in his death camps.
The "wonderful" Leninist communists have (so far) slaughtered 100+ million and we're still counting.
A Mortal Enemy of Marxism.

Posted by: BigSea | January 21, 2011 2:12 PM | Report abuse

It depends upon how many steps it takes to link it back to actual National Socialism in Germany's Third Reich.

If you say a vanilla socialism like public schools and public hospitals sound like Nazism, then that's weak. If you, as I recently did, said a person advocating eugenics and hatred generally was talking like a Nazi, then I of course think you are right.

The presumption that rhetoric must be softened or else the mentally ill will begin shooting is baseless. I cannot cite one instance where violent rhetoric in the media ever caused a mentally ill person to act with violence toward a politician.

The pols can lighten up on each other if they wish, but don't blame people who can't even be persuaded into coming in out of the freezing cold. Violent rhetoric inflames only the radicals and the criminals. It has no impact on the mentally ill. Social workers can't even coax some of them inside where there is cable television and heat.

Posted by: blasmaic | January 21, 2011 2:36 PM | Report abuse

>>"Media Matters, the watchdog group with a serious dislike for Fox News, cited 28 incidents of Nazi imagery being used by Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, New Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and Fox Chairman Roger Ailes going back as far as 2004."

So, let's see, it took 7 years of Fox broadcasting, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, to accumulate 28 "incidents of Nazi imagery" (most of which do not actually involve someone calling someone a Nazi.) During the Bush administration, there were times when liberal news outlets had more than 28 such "incidents" per DAY. And just last year, Olbermann alone used Nazi imagery or references at least 28 times.

Once again, something is fine as long as the left does it; once the right does it, it becomes unacceptable.

I am confused by the article -- it talks about Nazi references, but then asks about "any imagery related to the Holocaust." These are not the same, unless you consider any Nazi reference to be a Holocaust reference, which is certainly incorrect. "Nazi" can evoke any of a number of things.

Anyway, nothing should be "banned," but, as has been noted, people need to recognize that those who resort to Nazi labels have usually run out of solid arguments.

Posted by: S8thRd | January 21, 2011 3:16 PM | Report abuse

First, let's stipulate that Megyn Kelly is an absolutely despicable human being. Born blonde and privileged, she uses her good looks and status to ridicule, demean and smear anyone who does not bow to the authoritarian tyranny of corporate oligarchy as conceived by her boss Roger Ailes. Would she lead Jews to the gas chambers if hired by Joseph Goebbels? I see no indication that she would not.

That being said, anyone with the ability to understand the English language can decipher the technique used by the right wing to eliminate any use of logic or appropriate emotion in a serious discussion. These techniques appear to be an amalgamation of "best practices" from Karl Rove, Roger Ailes, Joseph Goebbels, sports talk radio and FM Morning Zoo radio. To wit:

1. If you want to use the proven techniques of Nazi propaganda, first accuse your victims of using those techniques (e.g. NPR is the "left wing of the Nazi Party" --Roger Ailes). This will sow so much confusion, that the media will call for a halt on the use of the term "Nazi." You will have accomplished your objective by neutralizing the target's ability to defend itself.

2. Adopt the cherished rhetoric of your victims, eliminating that as an emotional trigger (e.g., Bush administration adopting the term "speaking truth to power" when referring to the most powerful nation on earth's communication with Third World leaders; expropriating feminism in defense of Sarah Palin; conservative Southern Republicans claiming to be champions of black civil rights; adopting populist forms of protest such as the Tea Party to advance the causes of corporate power; etc.).

3. Whatever conspiracy you have developed, pre-empt critics by accusing the opposition of an even more sinister one. (e.g., Glenn Beck's George Soros "puppetmaster anti-Jewish conspiracy to control all the nations of the world," which fails to ring true for
Soros but describes News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch with uncanny precision.

4. Menace and intimidate with thinly veiled threats of violence, then act deeply offended and deny ever having said anything of the kind when you provoke the expected reaction (e.g., Glenn Beck's "they're going to shoot you in the head," "poisoning" Nancy Pelosi, Palin's gun sights become "surveyor's symbols," "reload," Sharron Angle's "2nd Amendment remedies," etc., etc.).

5. Tell only one side of the story (yours, of course) and only let the most ludicrous and laughable members of the opposition defend their cause. For instance, if you want to ridicule Civil Rights, let an outlandish atheist defend the cause, knowing that few Americans would listen to an atheist. Let Code Pink represent all opponents of an illegal and immoral war.

Follow this formula and you any honest citizen will feel so dirty from coming in contact with you that he or she will forswear politics. Then, your oligarchs can operate without interference from actual "citizens."

Posted by: motorfriend | January 21, 2011 3:27 PM | Report abuse

I do not favor word bans as I believe it sets up a problem way to big to manage.

The best we can hope for is a culture of encouragement to our better selves and toward a better, more effective rhetorical style.

Saying Nazi is easy. It takes no effort. Really it's for the intellectually and creatively weak-minded.

And honestly, the term Nazi is so overused that in so many ways it's lost its effectiveness as a rhetorical shocker while at the same time, sadly, it has hardened us against the natural sensitivities we should have toward the Nazi era——that Nazi atrocities were so unique that our cheapening of them for our petty political fights says more about the user of the word, than about anyone or any idea they would wish to condemn.

Good people can disagree. We can even disagree creatively, and colorfully. But when we get into the Nazi lob the problem is we no longer see or treat each other as "good people" or as we Christians like to say, "all children of God." Instead we demonize each other and dehumanize each other, transferring from the verbiage to the people involved, which is what allows us to grow into such coarse people.

But on this score people can only police themselves, not from a sense of political correctness or other false-taboo style inhibitions, but from the sheer desire to both win the case while also "respecting your enemy."

It isn't hard to conjure theories about why we've become so coarsened, and surely there'[s plenty of blame to go around. The issue is whether as a culture we can ride that razor's edge between being honest to ourselves and our values, not becoming fraidy cats or pablum, still arguing our cases, and at the same time honoring some base line element of humanity in each other. And heaven knows, the shouting is just undignified. Shouting doesn't make a case. It just looks pathetic.

Can we do it? I don't know. We Americans seem to want to be a juvenile and undignified lot. Might we change? A girl can hope.

Posted by: lindsaycurren | January 21, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure that suppression of discussion with regard to Naziism is not more dangerous that openly discussing it.

I listened to Cohen's remarks in the House. He correctly drew comparisons between Goebbels Big Lie strategy and that of the GOP, winners of the "Big Lie of the Year" from Politifact for 2 years running.

An excellent way to mask the use of these (sadly, very effective) political strategies, is to feign outrage over having them, and their political context, pointed out.

Truth be told, you don't have to hate Jews, or be a Nazi, to make use of the effective political strategies of Hitler's totalitarian regime. Pretending that we can never recognize the strategy, solely because of the outcome, does more harm than good.

Posted by: OldUncleTom | January 21, 2011 4:21 PM | Report abuse

If there was a journalist with integrity left out there who would bother to read up on the policies of the Nazi Party of Germany, they would quickly discover that those policies were right in (goose) step with those of today's Republican Party. (You might have to replace "Jew" with "illegal immigrant" but the policy's essentially the same, perhaps without the ovens.) Republicans today are just putting more and more lipstick on the pig, but it's still a fascist pig.

Posted by: bobdog3 | January 21, 2011 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Damn motorfriend, tell us how you really feel.

Jhtlag, yes, like it, if not it should be.

Blasmaic, good first points, then I think you make assumptions about crazy people you don't really know.

Nazi is a real world symbol for an archetype of evil. It is something that almost EVERYONE can relate to. Therefore it gets overused to the Nth degree by people trying to make a point. They use it for the archetypal purpose and are blithely unaware of the historical implications. Or, worse, they twist the history to suit their purposes (see blasmaic's comment).
This, as with other episodes of stupidity, should be allowed to continue ad nauseum until the ridiculous usage is seen for what it is, something to be ridiculed. It is a self correcting problem: Idiots who continue to be unoriginal will be phased out, voted out, lose ratings etc, and retire comfortably in some tropical locale. Meanwhile, I am coming up with new labels. Labels like blogimic: Where you take the best of what you think everyone else has to say above you, add your own acid and bile to it, then throw it up on the page. Now THAT is someone to be ridiculed.

Posted by: ashtar377 | January 21, 2011 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Nazi. Fits FOX News and its people to a tee.

Posted by: klakey1 | January 21, 2011 5:08 PM | Report abuse

I have a radical idea. Why don't we just use the term when actually referring to actual nazi's? Since none exist in Congress now or in the past or on any news/radio program we skip personal referrals of that kind. Since no imaginable piece of legislation passed or submitted to Congress has anything in it remotely similiar to anything the nazi's did why don't we skip references there as well.

Why don't we all agree that such references are a hallmark of ignorance in the person making such dubious comparisons and leave it at that.

Posted by: kchses1 | January 21, 2011 5:39 PM | Report abuse

I say everyone should give it up! Let's use it, I don't know, only when we are talking about .... Nazis? You know, like in history class?

While we are at it, how about a moratorium on comparing ourselves or others to Jesus, slaves, or victims of blood libel? All of these metaphors have been beaten to death and overused to the point of being drained of all meaning. And Ms. Kelly, Fox News leads the pack, so, yes, please, include all pundits and alleged newscasters on both sides of the aisle in the call for -- if not civility, at least, originality.

Posted by: fmjk | January 21, 2011 5:43 PM | Report abuse

No matter how attractive the argument or noble the motive, sorry. Nobody gets to ban a word. Nobody gets to tell anyone whether they can or can't use a certain word. Freedom of speech doesn't work that way. If phrased like that, the question is ludicrous.

Of course, speech can have consequences. We've seen enough examples of that, and when it comes to people who holler "Nazi", the invocation of Godwin's Law is usually sufficient chastisement.

Who's supposed to be the judge of whether a given comparison is correct or not, appropriate or not? Well, in a way we all play that role, and thus the comparison succeeds or fails in the court of public opinion.

But anyone has the right to offer a comparison -- and I (like every one of us) has the right to decide for myself whether I think it's correct or appropriate. Nobody gets to decide that for either of us. Period.

Posted by: laboo | January 21, 2011 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Umm, I think that this discussion has been misdirected. Rep. Cohen never said the word "Nazi," but alluded to the "Big Lie" strategy so successfully employed by Goebbels. The question here should be, instead, does the Republican characterization of the health care bill as "government takeover of health care" fit the profile of a "big lie"? Personally, I agree with Rep. Cohen that it does. Don't get distracted by people waving the "other N" word around.

Posted by: jblatt | January 21, 2011 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Nazi were above all conspiracy nuts who claimed that the "liberals," "democrats," and Jews were part of international conspiracy to enslave and kill the white race.

And there was also the hatred of teachers, trade unions, immigrants, biligualism, universities, "degenerate art," religious tolerance, race mixing, homosexuals, pornography, contraception, atheists, what Hitler himself called the "liberal press," and various other right wing tropes.

Oh and Hitler said "social justice" was a Jewish conspiracy in Mein Kampf. Beck lies.

I won't call someone a fascist just for embracing the usual stuff about early marriage and hating immigrants.

But Nazism claims there is an international liberal conspiracy to kill white people, so when someone like Beck spews that and quotes Hitler on topics like social justice, then, yes, Glenn Beck seems to be a Nazi or Nazi apologist.

Posted by: BurfordHolly | January 21, 2011 8:10 PM | Report abuse

In this instance, the use of "Nazi" clouds the real issue: the willingness of politicians and commentators to repeat untruths endlessly until they are accepted by many as fact.

The operative term in the 1950's and 1960's was 'brainwashing' and it applies here.

Happily for Conservatives, "brainwashing" techniques were famously used by totalitatian governments of the left, namely, Communist governments. They learned them at their peak from Goebbels.

It's the technique, not its provenance, that wreaks havoc in our political life. Present day brainwashing should be called out for what it is and condemned by both sides.

[Sadly, some appear so willing to accept blatant propaganda, however that brain washing is not necessary--a light rinse will do the trick.]

Posted by: Socrates2 | January 21, 2011 9:32 PM | Report abuse

I fully agree that Democrats should be completely comfortable comparing political opponents to Nazis-the outcry to tone down the level of heat in political discourse was never meant to apply to Democrats-it was just an attack to make Republican shut up.

Anyone that can read this blog and the responses knows that's the liberal media position-and the position of tabloids like the Washington Post.

Posted by: Towson_Tiger | January 21, 2011 10:22 PM | Report abuse

Also, when you have actual Holocaust survivors complaining about Fox News, that means something. Although an honest to God Nazi would just blame a conspiracy of liberal Jews and newspapers.

Cue Sarah Palin to claim she's the victim of a "Holocaust of criticism" in 3....2....1....

Posted by: BurfordHolly | January 21, 2011 11:23 PM | Report abuse

The word "nazi" should be reserved for "nazis."

Why not call conservatives Slavers, Middle Passagers?


Posted by: Farnaz2Mansouri2 | January 22, 2011 12:11 AM | Report abuse

Labeling your political opponent with inflammatory words, such as fascist, Nazi, and Hitler is inflammatory, wrong and ultimately ineffective as a way to persuade the persuadable how to vote.

Rep. Cohen could have complained about the Big Lie rhetoric device (that the Republican caucus has been using for years) without using Goebells’ name. As it is, he got the public talking about his invoking a possibly inflammatory word instead of discussing Republican’s organized use of the Big Lie propaganda strategy.

However, he could not have made his point just by saying they’re lying. The Big Lie strategy is different from ordinary lying. He would have been more effective had he just explained the Big Lie strategy, without mentioning its origin (Adolph Hitler described it and why it works in Chapter 10 of “Mein Kamf.” Hitler was a megalomaniac and ultimately delusional but he was perceptive at how to influence the public and highly successful in that endeavor.)

However, it should be noted that, unlike picturing the President of the United States with a Hitler mustache, Cohen never called anyone a Nazi. He didn’t even use that word. I doubt that the nut cases who might be influenced into violence by inflammatory speech would even have realized that Goebels was a Nazi.

Richard Belzer in his book “UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Believe,” described the Big Lie method this way: "If you tell a lie that's big enough, and you tell it often enough, people will believe you are telling the truth, even when what you are saying is total crap." It would have served Cohen better to use that in his complaint, rather than invoke Goebels.

Master manipulator Hitler’s more detailed explanation was:
“… in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.”

By the way, if you doubt that the GOP message machine uses sophisticated propaganda techniques, consider that all Republican politicians ungrammatically call their opposition party the “Democrat Party.” The real name is the Democratic Party, but the word “democratic” is an emotionally positive word. It’s not a Big Lie, and it’s not inflammatory, but it does follow the “Newspeak” propaganda principles of Orwell’s “1984.”

Posted by: BTMPost | January 22, 2011 2:12 AM | Report abuse

Fox's Kelly Absurdly Claims Fox Personalit­ies Do Not Invoke Nazis

Kelly "Watch[es]­" Fox News "Every Night" But Hasn't Noticed Nazi Imagery

In Fact, Fox News Figures Regularly Invoke Nazis, Hitler, Goebbels, Other Nazi Imagery


Posted by: johnbryansfontaine | January 22, 2011 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Anyone who calls Hitler and the Nazis leftists or Communists, Absolutely doesn't know anything about politics. The Nazis and Communists Loathed each other. Plus, Hitler's core group were embittered veterans, who like Hitler, believed that Germany had lost the war because Bolshevics, Leftists, and Jews had stabbed Germany in the back and caused the country to lose WWI. Hitler didn't side with Communists, Hitler Loathed Communists. Because according to Hitler, Communism was

Posted by: johnbryansfontaine | January 22, 2011 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who calls Hitler and the Nazis leftists or Communists, Absolutely doesn't know anything about politics. The Nazis and Communists Loathed each other. Plus, Hitler's core group were embittered veterans, who like Hitler, believed that Germany had lost the war because Bolshevics, Leftists, and Jews had stabbed Germany in the back and caused the country to lose WWI. Hitler didn't side with Communists, Hitler Loathed Communists. Because according to Hitler, Communism was

Posted by: johnbryansfontaine | January 22, 2011 2:55 PM | Report abuse

At the risk of sounding mean, when it comes to Megyn Kelly, the discussion shouldn't be about the use of Nazis references in civil or uncivil discourse, but why anyone oays any attention to a person who can't even spell her name correctly. To be kind, she is, well, an idiot. That she has a job on TV says a lot about our country as a land of opportunity for either those possessing modest intellect, or for pretty blonds with nothing worthwhile to say.

Posted by: Dh1953 | January 25, 2011 3:43 PM | Report abuse

'Kelly "Watch[es]­" Fox News "Every Night" But Hasn't Noticed Nazi Imagery'

It's OK Megyn, we understand it's painful to watch Fox News but you have to pretend you did to keep your job.

Your fan,

Posted by: gzuckier | January 25, 2011 7:10 PM | Report abuse

The SADEST fact is that Megyn Kelly wasn't worried about the FACTS that her network DID use Nazi and Goebbels comparisons and showed MUCH disdain for someone who said the Fox did (when IN FACT, FOX DID)! Wouldn't want to let a journalist have to deal with anything remotely approaching facts. Fox claims that the Nighttime folks are Opinion, not journalists. What is Megyn Kelly's excuse for not paying attention to the FACTS. Typically Fox "Journalist".

Posted by: JSKEVV | January 25, 2011 7:30 PM | Report abuse

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