Donohue: Head of the Hate League

The six-foot chocolate Jesus, "My Sweet Lord," that was set to be displayed at the Lab Gallery in Manhattan will not be shown as a result of the whinge assault led by the Catholic League's Bill Donohue. The gallery's creative director, Matt Semler, has resigned in protest.

Bill Donohue, head of the watchdog Catholic League, said it was "one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever."

The hotel and the gallery were overrun Thursday with angry phone calls and e-mails about the exhibit. Semler said the calls included death threats over the work of artist Cosimo Cavallaro, who was described as disappointed by the decision to cancel the display.

"In this situation, the hotel couldn't continue to be supportive because of a fear for their own safety," Semler said.
What a familiar pattern. Donohue gets his panties in a wad over something, and the targets of his ire get death threats. Where have I heard that before…?

Lest there be any remaining doubt about from whence this violent hatred comes, check out Donohue debating the artist, Cosmo Cavallaro, on Anderson Cooper's show (there's a full transcript at the link). Donohue not only states quite plainly that his goal is to make people with whom he disagrees "financially bankrupt," but tells Cavallaro: "You're lucky I'm not as mean [as the Taliban], because you might lose more than your head." So, in case you're keeping score—a statue of Jesus carved out of chocolate: "one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever." Veiled threats of deadly violence against the artist: totally cool.

Why on earth did Anderson Cooper let him get away with that horseshit? The only appropriate response after a statement like "you might lose more than your head" is "I'm sorry, Mr. Donohue. We don't tolerate our guests speaking to other guests in that manner. Cut his microphone. Thank you and goodnight, sir." Instead, Cooper blandly goes on with the inane questioning—"Cosimo, did you want people to eat this?" leaving Cavallaro to state the obvious: "No. Did you hear what this gentleman is saying, that I would lose my head?"

It's not Cooper who replies, however, but Donohue, who repeats himself: "You're lucky I'm not like the Taliban, because you would lose more than your head."

This is what now passes for acceptable public discourse. (In fact, crypto-eliminationist rhetoric is all the rage these days, it seems.) Donohue cannot distance himself from the inevitable death threats received by the targets of his smear campaigns by claiming he didn't tell people to do that, nor can he profess surprise, when he's leading the charge. Only the profoundly foolish or willfully ignorant could deny the true nature of the statements made by Donohue. If it weren't for my pesky morals, I'd do worse than behead you is what he is saying. And once it is said, I believe there's no question that his morals are little more than window dressing—a necessary embellishment on the otherwise stark fortress of hate in which he resides if he wants to keep that $300,000 annual salary rolling in.

Digby wonders why the Catholic Church has not officially denounced Donohue and the Catholic League, which evokes a rather consternating conundrum. The Catholic Church obviously never sanctioned Donohue as some sort of official spokesperson, and yet he's become one—for which the media tends to get the blame. Every Catholic I know says Donohue doesn't reflect their views and puts the onus for his being treated otherwise on the media outlets who give him the spotlight; in a recent interview with Salon's Rebecca Traister, the outgoing president of Catholics for a Free Choice, Frances Kissling, noted she's "horrified" Donohue is treated as "represent[ing] some mainstream organization" and that his positions are "being given merit" by the media. It's a position with which I am deeply sympathetic, as I'm absolutely furious that Donohue—and all the rest of the eliminationist brigade—continue to be given free reign by the media to disgorge their taunts and threats and hatemongering. It's not just vulgar, but irresponsible, that Donohue was given air time to spew provocative vitriol and all but exhort violence against his ideological enemies.

But here’s the thing—if the media turned to Catholic news aggregates and community sites to see if they consider Donohue's positions meritous, it's no wonder they afford him attention. Catholic News, which appears to stick to what might be called more important news, seems to blissfully ignore him. But Catholic Online, which purports to be "the World's Largest and Most Comprehensive Catholic Information Service available," asserts their Catholic laity and clergy staff seek to "provide Internet users with resources and connections to sites and information which are truly Catholic," and claims a million page views a day from 120 countries, posts favorable stories about Donohue. So does American Catholic, part of the St. Anthony Messenger Press and Franciscan Communications, which "conducts its publishing ministry with the official ecclesiastical approval of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cincinnati." So does Catholic Exchange, which describes itself as "a non-profit media organization that seeks to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the Catholic Church" and has been endorsed by presidential candidate Senator Sam Brownback. features stories citing Donohue as a credible source. Etc.

The sites promote Donohue, the media (fairly) sees he is a spokesman for some Catholics, so they quote him, thereby bolstering his credibility; more Catholic sites pick up the mainstream media stories about him and promote those; the media picks up on that increasing noise, and, begins (unfairly) to present him as a spokesman for all Catholics; and, then, in an ironic twist, his dissenters must inadvertently legitimize him as well when they are thusly compelled to weigh in. To highlight their dissent at his being regarded as a spokesperson for Catholics, for example, Catholics for a Free Choice highlights five stories in which Donohue is quoted—because they are, too. And so it goes. Frustratingly but factually, Donohue's credibility is not just conferred by the media, but this whole all-too-familiar, self-perpetuating cycle that does indeed include Catholics who have no problem with Donohue's schtick.

Truly, the problem isn't that he doesn't speak for everyone as much as it is that he does speak for someone. Donohue gets only half his nourishment from the media. The other half comes from the people who believe in his crusades, who support his crusades with letter-writing and donations, who nod their heads with righteous vigor when their crusader demeans, marginalizes, attacks, or threatens his targets, whether it is a single artist or an entire American demographic, like pro-choicers, the LGBT community, atheists, or liberals. We say things like, "Bill Donohue doesn't represent all Catholics any more than Pat Robertson represents all Protestants," and we should—but we've also got to stop using that to end the discussion. Too many quick dismissals about how Bill Donohue and Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and James Dobson et. al. don't represent all Christians has left us with a country in which, collectively, they nonetheless represent a hell of a lot of them, who are now politicized, organized, and determined to overcome the incompatibility of their particular brand of religion with American ideals not by reexamining their religion, but by changing the face of America.

This is why "Bill Donohue doesn't represent all Catholics" will never suddenly make the media stop paying attention to him, because they can (and always do) come back with the legitimate response that there are nevertheless Catholics he does represent. Instead, we've got to feast on any opportunity Donohue gives us to point out rhetoric that justifies his permanent exile from the public discourse, even if there are a lot of people who support him. "You're lucky I'm not like the Taliban, because you would lose more than your head" is one of those opportunities.

Contact Anderson Cooper 360° and let them know you won't watch shows that allow unchecked threats to be made on-air.

More from Zuzu and Pastor Dan.

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