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John F. KavanaughNovember 23, 2009

On Oct. 29 Glenn Beck ended his program on Fox TV with the words of Thomas Jefferson: “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” Beck himself certainly has not been silent. In lectures, best-selling books, a radio program and his television show, he has warned America of the coming tyranny under a conspiratorial president. Armed with videos and quotations ranging from the mindless and amoral behavior of some members of Acorn to reckless statements made by associates and appointees of President Obama, Beck connects dots to draw a web of radicals who are out to destroy America as the founders intended it.

The exposing of unethical practices or foolish statements as well as reasoned critique of health, economic and international policies are essential to our civil discourse. I, for one, am troubled by the administration’s policy in Afghanistan, its reliance on many of the financial wizards who led us into our present mess and its disorganized, sometimes tepid approach to health care reform.

But defamation by innuendo is something else. Glenn Beck and his radio twin, Rush Limbaugh, have since the president’s inauguration imputed tyrannical intentions to the man. Whether inflating episodes such as children singing a song about Mr. Obama, claiming that the president is a racist with a “deep-seated hatred of white people and white culture” or characterizing “Obama’s America” as an offspring of Maoism or Nazism, Beck and Limbaugh are stoking a fire of fear and anger against the president of the United States.

If you search the Internet for the phrase “Obama is…,” the top six possibilities offered are, “antichrist,” “idiot,” “racist,” “liar,” “Hitler,” “socialist.” A search for “Obama” and “destroying America” yields 719,000 sites.

Obama the destroyer has been a recent theme of Limbaugh. On June 4, Newsmax.com (a news partner of The Washington Times) reported that Rush Limbaugh, on the previous night’s news, told Sean Hannity that “like Osama Bin Laden, the president is trying to destroy America.” What Limbaugh really said was, “If Al Qaeda wants to demolish the America we know and love, they’d better hurry because Obama is beating them to it.” In an “On the Record” interview with Fox’s Greta Van Susteren on July 23 and 24, Limbaugh claimed that the president, who is “purposely destroying the economy,” wants “as little liberty and freedom as possible” for the American people. He wants to determine who is born and when we die. Bent on remaking the country, the president is allegedly causing joblessness on purpose. After saying that the “greatness of this country’s people is under assault,” Limbaugh concludes that the president “has contempt for the American people.”

As if that were not enough, on Nov. 1 “Fox News Sunday” gave Limbaugh 30 minutes to lob unchallenged assertions that Mr. Obama is an immature narcissist, an extreme radical intent on destroying the economy.

We have here the suggested embodiment of Glenn Beck’s tyrant, a president who wants to destroy America and its economy and to seize total control over our lives. These accusations should not be passed off as the musings of crackpots or satirical entertainers. No matter what the motives behind this demonizing, the act amounts to the highest of slanders. Limbaugh professes how much he loves this country, a Christian country, he insists. But does he realize that the Christian tradition holds calumny to be a serious sin?

Slander has emerged as a new genre for the Internet. I’m sure I am not the only one receiving “forward it on” e-mails from people alarmed at the coming downfall of our country, often with allusions to Hitler as a precursor to our present president.

Whatever our political leanings or fears for the future may be, let us hope that there is not someone out there who, having been seduced by slanderous innuendo, really thinks Barack Obama is as bad as Bin Laden and as tyrannical as Hitler. It is painful to consider what could happen in the face of such imagined tyranny. And let us pray that such actions are not inspired by John Wilkes Booth or Timothy McVeigh, with their shared motto, “sic semper tyrannis.” If a terrible assault on the president should occur, will Christians who advanced the slander of him be contrite? And will those of us who were silent be shamed?

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Christopher Mulcahy
12 years 9 months ago
This piece itself is slanderous. Take this quote: “characterizing “Obama’s America” as an offspring of Maoism or Nazism, Beck and Limbaugh are stoking a fire of fear and anger against the president of the United States”. This statement is not backed by any quote. Actually, humorously, it is immediately preceded by a quote apparently criticizing them for “claiming that the president is a racist with a ‘deep-seated hatred of white people and white culture’. News flash: Nazism was/is the exact opposite of ‘hatred of white people and white culture.’

Bottom line: to criticize powerful men like Limbaugh and Beck, you better bring big guns to the fight, like a fistful of exact quotes. A few quotes plus generalizations won’t do. At all.
James Lindsay
12 years 9 months ago
Fr. Kavanaugh's analysis of Beck and Limbaugh are spot on. They provide a stern warning to those who believe the worst about the President that they are in moral danger, especially if they receive their news from these biased sources. There are some in the hierarchy who should take due notice of this editorial.
Gerald Ragan
12 years 9 months ago
WOW! Thank you for speaking out so forcefully, rationally, and morally.
12 years 9 months ago

It is easy to save Fr. Kavanaugh from being labeled a slanderer for lack of specific quotes.  One need only go to Rush Limbaugh's website, where one will find the following quote from the transcript to his October 20 broadcast:"Another tape has surfaced of another Obama official praising Mao Tse-tung."  This is accompanied by a graphic of President Obama dressed in a Chinese military uniform, under which we see the caption "Messiah Tse-Tung" made to look like Chinese characters, and all of which is on a red background.  It took me about 30 seconds to find that.  Fr. Kavanaugh could no doubt provide a catalogue of exact quotes, with accompanying offensive graphics, taken merely from Limbaugh's site, but then it wouldn't be much of a column, would it?  However, it might very well illustrate his point.  Myself, I'm sticking to reading David Brooks, one of the more sane and charitable conservative voices these days who, unsurprisingly, is expressing some of the same concerns which Fr. Kavanaugh raises.

John Walton
12 years 9 months ago

Somehow, as an avid reader of Fr. Kavanagh's commentaries, I can't recall similar outrage when the same ephithets were hurled at George Bush, either one. 

If it quacks like a socialist, it's a socialist. 

Richard Warren
12 years 9 months ago

I tend to agree with Chris Mulcahy that this column is rather shallow in its argument.  Fr. Kavanaugh seems to have 'drunk the cool aid' by merely characterizing these conservative commentators, who have pointed out case by case, and in detail, the extreme measures taken so far by this administration.  Are their comments on these facts 'over the edge'? Of course, that's how you retain viewers/listeners.  Yet no one, including Fr. Kavanaugh, has disputed the facts, many of which these men have been alone in publicizing. But the alarm they raise is not inconsequential. After all, President Obama promised fundamental change.  (And when citizens publicly assemble and demonstrate against them, the President calls them ‘extremists’ – is there calumny here?) That's what we're all getting - a basic change from the nation envisioned by the founders and the Constitution.  That's probably not what Fr. Kavanaugh wants to hear, or even cares about.

12 years 9 months ago

I appreciate Fr. Kavanaugh raising this issue. The level of discourse in this country is poisonous.  No matter our differences, we are all Americans.  The right is very quick to delegitimize elected officials who are Democrats.  We are better than that, America. We have to work together to solve our problems. We can't afford the endless campaign.

alan baer
12 years 9 months ago

Thank you for saying this.

12 years 9 months ago

FOX News: the news you want to watch when what you want to watch is not the news.

It's genuinely creepy and scary to see that commentators above actually believe and then repeat (!) the distortions and outright lies they hear on FOX. Whatever happened to critical thinking skills? I guess it's easier to watch what you want to believe, what supports your irrational fears and biases than to question, challenge and seek the truth and accuracy.

Bernard Campbell
12 years 9 months ago

The real damage of this widespread calumny is the divisive effect it is having on family and social relationships.  Any study on genocide reveals that calumny leads to genocide.  Many are using calumny to destroy an opponent.  Unfortunately, the days of "loyal and respected opposition" are presently gone from our "public square."

What makes it even more tragic is that "religious persons" are exponents of this method of public conversation. Unfortunately, it is behavior common amongst persons who claim to be spokes-persons for religious communities. The silence of the leadership in this area is saddening. Allowing this issue to continue  without comment by the leaders of religious groups is one of the main reasons many people do not become active members in Churches. The hierarchy of all religious groups should be condemning this calumny, not just Fr. Kavanaugh, SJ. Thank you for your brilliant work and the work of America.   

fran kerns
12 years 9 months ago
Thank you, Fr.Kavanaugh for your call to all of us to be aware of the reckless use of inflammatory words and images.
Paul Howard
12 years 9 months ago

I'm awaiting the next Fox newscast that professional wrestling is real and the moon landing was staged.

12 years 9 months ago
People tell me AMERICA is a Liberal magazine, its editorial content cited as proof. I disagree with that designation because like Fox News, I find AMERICA fair and balanced. Anyhow, as Judge Judy likes to say, "I don't give a rats behind" if AMERICA is Liberal, as long as it stays fair and balanced!Liberal, is not necessarily bad.

However, I must say I'm disappointed with the AMERICA article, "Slandering The President" by Jesuit Professor John T. Kavanaugh, a favorite contributor of mine, whose opinions are usually fair and balanced and which help me to better understand the complexities out and about. But not this time!

I'm disappointed because Professor Kavanaugh seems to have joined the stampeding herd of the anti-Bush "megaphonies" trying to silence Rush Limbaugh and Dave Beck, because of their theatrics and hyperbole. And they certainly are theatrical and hyperbolic, a technique with which I do not always agree.But I do support their right to function within the law as they wish. It was bad enough when some low level bureaucrat used his/her podium at the USNCCB to lash out again Limbaugh, a bad move that did little to improve the credibility of the U.S. Bishop's Conference. But now it would seem my revered AMERICA has joined the stampeding herd, or shoud I say the ravenous school of piranha, trying to devour Limbaugh and Beck! Professor Kavanaugh has done so by using as bait the "c" and "s" words (calumny and slander.) I thought calumny and slander belonged to the mainstream media, like the NEW YORK TIMES especially in attcking the Catholic Church!

Of course President Obama is not the "anti-Christ" nor is he an "idiot" nor is he a "racist" and he's not "Hitler." In my opinion, however, President Obama is a socialist and in essence there's nothing wrong with being socialistic, as long as personal initiative and responsibility are maintained. Indeed Holy Scripture insists that "we are our brother's/sister's keeper," that we are morally required to look out for one another. And that's what socialism suggests.But it does matter how it is promoted as incorrectly enforced it can lead to Facism, Naziism and Communism, as 20th century history has shown.

President Obama has also been called a "liar." He is not a liar, except perhaps in the sense that we all lie as Scripture say, "All men are liars!"

I disagree with much that President Obama espouses at least in the way he espouses it. But I believe he means well and hopefully he will accomplish good things, just as President Bush accomplished good things. I wish Professor Kavanaugh had exercised his considerable wisdom and power of pursuation in a positive evaluation of Rush Limbaugh and Dave Beck, rather than the tangled web of negativity his AMERICA essay weaves.

However, he still has my vote and so does AMERICA. I like them both!
Stanley Schardon
12 years 9 months ago
I agree that Beck and Limbaugh can be "over the top" like their counterparts on the Left. They are not reporting news, but only their opinion of the Obama administration. Do you think that Obama has kept his promises as a candidate regarding transperancy, lobbyists, reaching across the aisle, etc.?

I'm very concerned about the reckless spending that has taken place. We and future generations will be endlessly paying off the rising debt. Perhaps there are moral consequences to spending others money imprudently.
John Wren
12 years 9 months ago
I’m told America has a proud tradition of vicious political campaigning, starting with the race between Vice-President Thomas Jefferson against his President John Adams.

What’s happening on the radio and in campaigns is not so concerning to me as the declining level of conversation between common people like myself. Robert Putman documented this in his book Bowling Alone a few years ago.

At about the same time, Chris Phillips wrote his book called Socrates Cafe. After I read both books, a few of us started Socrates Cafe meeting here in Denver, and small groups like it are springing up all around the country. Any one in Denver is welcome to visit us http://meetup.com/Denver-Socrates-Cafe

For the last year and a half we’ve been trying to encourage common people to take a turn on the soapbox at what we are calling Denver Speakers Corner, which meets each Sunday afternoon at Civic Center park. http://meetup.com/Denver-Speakers-Corner

I haven’t watched TV since the switch to HD, and I rarely listen to the radio. Our best hope for sane politics is a restoration of the grassroots, people in small groups having good conversation. Seems to me that the Internet is helping to bring that about.

Being critical of the offenders may just play into their hands and increase their audience. Might be better to just focus on encouraging Catholics to become more engaged in civic dialog with diverse groups in a reasonable way, maybe even calling in to talk radio shows to be witnesses for truth as we each see it.
Livia Fiordelisi
12 years 9 months ago

Thank you for this very sane, very Catholic and very Christian comment. I will forward it on to as many of my fellow parishioners as possible as food for thought.

William SMITH
12 years 9 months ago

How pathetic!

12 years 9 months ago
Thanks Fr. Kavanaugh, your words reflect a homily I delivered the week following Mr. Limbaugh's comparison between Hitler and Mr. Obama. For those who lived during World War II, such an association is unparalleled in my memory and simply wrong. I've never heard public commentators refer to Mr. Bush or other contemporary presidents as Hitler. Such associations are unacceptable and erode the trust placed in those given the privilege of being public commentators. Our country supports free speech but not pathetic name-calling. Following the Eucharist Liturgy, most parishioners expressed gratitude for my request to end name calling and attend to facts for discourse not opinions that are suggested as fact. One older couple approached me with great anger and suggested I was supporting Mr. Obama. I noted to them as I had in the homily, it would also be wrong for Mr. Obama to refer to Mr. Limbaugh as Hitler, etc. Christian charity demands respect, honoring the dignity of others and promoting the common good. I invited all of us at the Eucharistic Liturgy to pray for Mr. Limbaugh and all public commentators to seriously consider their responsibility to public service as a commentator. I noted my comments were not pro or con to Mr. Limbaugh or Mr. Obama but requesting respect at the forefront of all presentations. Thanks for your courageous words.
Mariann McCormick
12 years 8 months ago

Thank you, Fr. Kavanaugh!  Now, as in centuries before, it takes courage to speak for Christian values, especially the value of honesty.  I do not see your article as trying to squelch anyone's right to an opinion, but to protect everyone's right to truth.  I do not believe we can sit by while slanders are spoken, from the media and even from the pulpit, or Internet lies are passed around. None of us can contribute to a pool of poison - even by silence - and claim immunity from what may occur as a result. What is going on today goes far beyond political rhetoric or even exaggerations.  It is calumny, and we are called to stand against it.  I have the right to disagree; I do not have the right to demonize or slander whose with whom I disagree.  Thank you again for speaking out on this.

Leonard Villa
12 years 8 months ago

This essay is frankly nonsense.  Fr. Cavanaugh disagrees with Limbaugh and Beck. Fine.   They disagree with Obama fine.  Does disagreement equal defamation?  I doubt whether Fr. Cavanaugh regularly listens to or watches Beck and/or Limbaugh because they back up what they say:government take-over of car companies, taxing sprees, cap and trade to promote junk science about the environment,promotion of abortion, the desire to take over 1/6th of the American economy with a government health-care take-over, unelected/unaccountable czars wielding power, the people surrounding Obama with radical/and some communist pasts, like Jeremiah Wright who is a racist, the wise Latina Sottomayor who is superior to white men (can you imagine if a Republican nominee made an analogous statement??)  All of the above are Obama choices.  Pointing them out is not defamation.  Sorry Fr. Cavanaugh.

12 years 8 months ago
Thank you for this excellent commentary. I've been waiting for the Catholic hierarchy to make similiar statements about these sins of slander, calumny, and libel. No matter what the side and what the reason, to undermine our political leaders as Beck, Limbaugh, and others are doing is wrong. To disagree is one thing, to slander is another. I too receive much of this nonsense via email and I always reply that I don't want to be part of it. I have lost some friends by telling them not to send me this junk. I've also preached about it from the pulpit, and have been told that Limbaugh, Beck, etc. in particular, and conservative Talk Radio in general are the only ways people get the truth. What a shame our media stoops so low and too many are listening and reading! Your article reminds me to preach again about such sins and to avoid lowering myself by like criticism of those with whom I disagree.
12 years 8 months ago

I share Fr. Kavanaugh's concerns for our president, as the barrage of slanderous email and web material attacking him seems to multiply daily. We have all seen what can happen when public hatred reaches such frenzied proportions.

I don't know that my well-meaning forwarding friends would be contrite, should an assault occur. However, I can no longer do nothing when these falsehoods arrive in my inbox. Instead, I check them out at http://fightthesmears.com or http://www.truthorfiction/rumors

These sites, like Snopes, get to the truth behind the false assertions. They may not be able to deal with the innuendo, but at least we get the facts. 

I reply to the forwarded email with a "reply all" and refer them to the above sites, with the polite comment that I like to check out both sides of a story.

And I pray daily for our president, whom I am proud to see representing our country.






Frances rossi

Nicholas Clifford
12 years 8 months ago

Thank you for this article, and I'm delighted to see it run in a Catholic magazine. Fortunately I don't get the kinds of e-mails Fr. Kavanagh seems to be prey to - sheltered life, I guess (though I remember one some months ago telling me that Obama was the henchman of a Jewish-papal conspiracy).

How do we deal with the kinds of ignorance and fear that the views of Beck, Limbaugh,and their disciples batten on? I do think the fear is important, and as Christians, we must try to understand that fear and do what we can to assuage it. It would certainly help if more Catholic leaders were willing to speak out against the poison that undermines our society - and encourages the kind of polarization we see all too often, not only in our politics, but in our Church.

C Walter Mattingly
12 years 8 months ago

I no more enjoy the calumny directed toward Obama than I enjoyed the Nazi and murderer comments directed toward Bush, concerning which the baseless slander passed largely unremarked here and elsewhere.  But there are reasons for concern. Obama was the sole house or senate vote in favor of extending infanticide past the unborn and to the born by denying health care, this time in the case of the viable child who had survived an attempted abortion, because "the mother did not intend for the child to be born."  It is also cause for concern that his chosen life-long spiritual father figure is a racist who curses America.  Ditto some of his marxist-oriented friends and former bombers.

But the troubling fact out in today's CBS poll is that the American people do not believe him. When his administration claims that the stimulus has saved 600,000 jobs, 7% of the public believes him.  When he claims that his health care plan will not cost excess new dollars to be spent, 19% believe him.

Obama seems to me to be a bright, articulate person who is attempting to move the country incrementally toward some version of socialism.  But the nation really doesn't want to go in that direction best I can tell.  And a smooth and pleasant tv persona and speeches read from teleprompters will not suffice for very long, as we are finding out. Let's hope something changes before our children and grandchildren are indebted beyond belief.

12 years 8 months ago

I believe that the people who are making tons of money preaching hate in the country are not so much a cause as an effect. They are telling a lot of people what they want to hear. If they were not, they would have no greater impact than a harmless crackpot carrying a sign around downtown predicting the end of the world tomorrow. 


Hate has become a cottage industry, it is produced by many, many people, at all levels of society, many of them Catholic bishops and priests, and mostly about the abortion issue. 


As for that issue, it is not necessary to agree with abortion rights advocates to acknowledge that many, if not all, are people of generally good will and kindly disposition, and that there is “common ground.” As for Mr. Obama, it is not necessary to like him personally or agree with all his policies to say, as Sam Ervin said of Richard Nixon in the Watergate hearings, “I wish our president well, because he is the only president we have.”


There is a lesson that ought to be learned from the various mass murders in the past hundred years, and it doesn’t seem to have been learned yet, or even to have been discussed. Horrible crimes are not a monopoly of people like Stalin and Hitler; each had thousands of collaborators, and we have to believe that most of them were people of normal behavior and thinking before their participation in the horror, and afterward. All of us, including you and me, are capable of horrible actions, and we ought to be suspicious of ourselves and our tendency to demonize, to forget that people who differ with us, even about serious matters, are human beings with rights.

12 years 8 months ago
Fr. John Kavanaugh has done a masterful job of setting down a reasoned critique on responsible criticism of President Obama. We need not agree with our President on all of his proposals for achieving a more perfect Union. He doesn't expect us to, and has remained amenable to counter-proposals from Congress; but there is a huge difference between honest, reasoned criticism, and the scathing, irrational rants flung at him by Beck, Limbaugh, and others. I embrace Fr. Kavanaugh's alarm: should the all-too-frequent assault that has blotted the history of this, our native land, occur, "will Christians who advanced the slander of him be contrite? And will those of us who were silent be ashamed?"
12 years 8 months ago

Was Fr. Kavanaugh equally vigilant about the vicious, despicable calumny directed at President Bush? Or is there a double standard?


Sorry, but from the earliest days Obama's core constituency has been comprised of hardcore haters who make the likes of Beck and Limbaugh seem like gentle lambs.

John Hess
12 years 8 months ago

While honest and factual criticism is completely ethical, Mr. Limbaugh, Mr. Beck, and the rest of the radio ranters go far beyond this to the point of encouraging hatred and ascribing sinister motives toward those who have liberal political beliefs.  They engage in the sin of calumny and they do it for the money and the fame.  


Those who encourage them in their sin by providing cash and adulation also share in their sin.


I beg all of their fans to look into hearts and ask themselves why they take pleasure in the animosity inspired by these peoples' hateful words.      

James Richard
12 years 8 months ago

Heck, if you doubt Fr Kavanaugh's article, just visit a couple of the Conservative Catholic  Forums on the internet. You'll see Catholics posting most of what they heard Beck and Limbaugh spouting, and accepting them as gospel truths.


Just don't disagree with them, or you'll be banned by the moderators there.



12 years 7 months ago

Father Kavanaugh's disharmonious clattering and the above favorable comments are still resounding around the recesses of my apparant vacuous supratentorial chamber, but before all the clutter settles into the inevitable dust heap of stillness it deserves, I feel obligated to respond. Those favorable comments indicate the liberal feeding frenzy at the Medias' pablum troughs of Obama Sweetened Gruel. All the while they are oblivious to what Thomas Merton earlier on perceived during the Civil Rights struggle and wrote about in Seeds of Destruction. In his Letters to a White Liberal, he wrote; "ERGO...At the end of this chain of thought I visualize you, my liberal friend, goose-stepping down Masachusetts Avenue in the uniform of an American Totalitarian Party in a mass rally where nothing but the most uproarious approval is manifest... ". Unfortunately the Obama worshippers fail to perceive what is coming: witness the trap the NCCB fell into prematurely approving the Health Care Plan that subsequently reversed and now provides funds for Abortion....AND NOW the Politicos can tell their Catholic constituents the bishops approve the Bill...When Jesuits educated me (Fordham'51) they always were fierce in their moral and ethical standards but never political, and unlike Father Kavanaugh's lack of documentation in his loose thinking (slander and calumny) accusations, we were always taught to seek out the facts rather than make wild statements. I've heard both Beck and Limbaugh and found them to back up everything they say.    

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