Atheists – the last U.S. minority that can be openly maligned without consequence

I am sure that you have already heard about the despicable TV ad that Elizabeth Dole aired against Kay Hagan. You probably heard about it online, perhaps on Twitter or FriendFeed or blogs. Here’s a quick selection:
My godless money. Take it or leave it.
The Worst Insult of All?
Thou shalt not bear false witness
NC: Hagan responds to ‘Godless’ ad; Dole’s immigrant bashing
Elizabeth Dole ad falsely suggests opponent Kay Hagan is ‘Godless.’
North Carolina Senate Race Degenerates Into Shouting Match About Atheists
Sen. Liddy Dole (R-NC) attacks Sunday school teacher: ‘There is no God’
Sen. Dole vs. the atheists
With friends like these…
Also, we aren’t tax exempt, so: Vote Obama
You Know Your Senator Is Getting Desparate When…
North Carolina Watch
Don’t you call me an atheist, you
There is No God!
Is Elizabeth Dole Godless?
Elizabeth Dole accuses her opponent of atheism!
Will Elizabeth Dole Ad Have A Subliminal Effect On Young Viewers
Liddy Dole is an asshole
Calling someone an atheist is apparently slander
A pox on them all
Liddy Dole’s Desperate Bigotry
Godless isn’t immoral (a letter to Raleigh News & Observer)
….and many more….
But, if this happened four years ago, you would not have heard about it in the mainstream media. This year, you do:

What changed in four years?
Ari Melber thinks it’s the Web: blogs, social networks, YouTube:

Everyone can hear it now. This Internet-driven, hyperactive presidential race is forcing accountability on two of the oldest tricks in politics: dog whistles and secret smears.
Partisan and muckraking bloggers now fight political operatives’ efforts to keep unseemly attacks below the radar. Take automated “robo” phone calls, which often deploy the sharp attacks that campaigns don’t want exposed in the mass media. Previously, the calls were obscure, rarely drawing major media coverage, let alone sustained criticism. Now they can be recorded, uploaded and dissected in a single news cycle. Sites like TalkingPointsMemo and Daily Kos use crowd-sourcing by readers to track the attacks and pin them squarely on John McCain. Insider political sites, like Ben Smith’s Politico blog, also disseminate the audio recordings to media and political elites, converting a “targeted” message into a mass broadcast. And organized campaigns like the National Political Do Not Call Registry use the web, Twitter and e-mail to track and map every call.
Once exposed, McCain’s robocalls were unpalatable even to his allies in the party and the media, adding another “Hey, Rube” squabble to his already contentious campaign. Republican senators condemned the calls. Fox News’s Chris Wallace pressed McCain on the issue, reminding the senator that he once denounced such tactics. Even Sarah Palin felt compelled to respond to criticism of the campaign’s robocalls, telling reporters that while she did not renounce them, she would prefer to do personal and retail campaigning instead.
All this online activity has been amplified by the rapidly shifting landscape of political television. The increasingly opinionated cable news programs, always in search of conflict and fresh content, now treat debates over these tactics as a major campaign issue. This emphasis is bleeding into the broader campaign discourse, which includes minute dissection of attacks that were once considered unmentionable. A whole range of smears against Obama, for example, have been exposed under the glare of nationally televised debates. Sometimes that process has angered his supporters–as when the ABC News primary debate focused on smears regarding “patriotism” and Islam. In one of the general election debates, CBS moderator Bob Scheiffer was credited for playing a corrective role when he pressed both candidates to answer for attacks from their supporters. That is a stark contrast to the previous two presidential races, when even the most incendiary attacks drew scant calls for accountability at the candidate level.
“Thanks to YouTube–and blogging and instant fact-checking and viral emails– it is getting harder and harder to get away with repeating brazen lies without paying a price, or to run under-the-radar smear campaigns without being exposed,” contends Arianna Huffington, whose website pulses with a constant, two-way debate of news and opinion. “The McCain campaign hasn’t gotten the message,” she added, “hence the blizzard of racist, alarmist, xenophobic, innuendo-laden accusations being splattered at Obama.”
This new media environment undermines political attacks that turn on coded meanings and hidden messages, because now anything can be exposed and cheaply disseminated. Observers used to worry that the web would fragment our media consumption into private little silos–that famous “Daily Me.” Yet in presidential politics, an inverse dynamic is emerging. Small groups of people are using the web to expose the targeted appeals of the analog world, and then injecting them into the mass media for the whole nation to assess. And many voters do not like what they see.

Perhaps Liddy Dole, by airing this TV ad, provoked exactly the kind of storm that, amplified through both the New and Old Media, will lead to a public shift in perception of atheists. If everyone and their grandmother starts talking about it and seeing this ad as despicable – not for tainting Hagan but for denigrating atheists (sorta like what Colin Powell did to the idea that calling someone a Muslim is a smear) – then we as a society have just made another step in the right direction.

7 responses to “Atheists – the last U.S. minority that can be openly maligned without consequence

  1. Yeah, at least Dole didn’t accuse Hagan of being gay. That would have been way beyond the pale. I also noticed that she didn’t accuse Hagan of being a Muslim, a commie, a socialist, a redistributor, etc etc etc.
    As an atheist, I am disappointed in Hagan’s response, but we really do have a long way to go. We aren’t the only minority it is okay to slander, though.

  2. See the problem is that we can’t even tell the true believers to go to hell and amean it.

  3. I just saw Dole’s NEW response add to Hagen this morning. I have never been so offended about a commercial, than I was at this new one.

  4. I’m having a hard time getting as worked up about Hagan’s response as Greg Laden and PZ are. Hagan’s a Christian, she was accused of not being a Christian in a state where that does constitute an issue (hell, it’s a legitimate enough instance of slander that Hagan is suing), and she defended herself.
    Does it suck that Dole would think it worthy of attacking? Yep. Does it suck that NC is that kind of environment? Yep.
    But no open atheist has ever been elected to the Senate or Congress (okay, there is Pete Stark, but he came out after the last election. After Nov. 4th, the statement will be less true). Expecting any sort of liberalism on atheism in a close Senate race in a southern swing state is so out of touch with reality that Greg and PZ may just have to resign themselves to frustration.
    Take the gay marriage movement as an example: Got the courts to pass it in a few of the liberal states, and immediately said to those getting married “Do NOT go back to your home state and launch legal challenges to get your marriage recognized.” Because they knew it had to be a gradual, education-based program. The last week of the NC-Senate race is not an environment that gives a damn for a Special Learning Moment.

  5. Polls show atheists are the most despised group in America. We rated below gays and muslims. All people, including atheists, gays muslims and everyone else deserves respect. The headline of this article hit the nail on the head. The national press should be concentrating on why it’s ok to be openly bigoted against non believers, and why atheism is considered so despicable in a country that isn’t supposed to be a theocracy. That’s the bigger story here-the Dole/Hagan part is the side story.

  6. Note that Palin did the same thing Liddy did when she ran for mayor. One of the things progressive Christians need to start noting is that conservative Christians hate them too. Conservative Christians are bigots, even toward fellow Christians. They need to be called on their bigotry, and this needs to be done not just by non-Christians but by progressive Christians. I would say especially by progressive Christians.

  7. I am an Atheist living in North Carolina and I vote.
    Elizabeth Dole,
    I have on the back window of my vehical in big white letters, “DOLE IS A BIGOT!” right under my Dawin fish.
    Let me tell you, It has been getting LOTS of attention from the folks who run I85 / I40 between Greensboro & Raleigh. I can run 200 miles a day and that’s not including the extra-cirricular I WILL be running,
    It will stay there until you either LOSE the election or you remove your 2nd ad and apologize to the American people for being a Bigot, Hypocrit & Ignoramous.
    Atheist voices NEED to be heard.