Where the Angriest Words Can Lead

Saturday, June 6, 2009

"I hope you're satisfied," the caller said. She identified herself as the wife of a D.C. government official taken to task in a Post editorial for a bad decision he had made on the job. "My husband just received word that he has been fired," she said. "An honorable career down the drain."

"You have," she said, "turned our lives upside down . . . Our daughter's wedding now has to be canceled because we can't pay for it."

"I hope you're satisfied," she said once again.

I wasn't satisfied. I was stunned, sorry for what had happened to her family and disturbed by the disruption in her daughter's life, and I fumbled for words to express my concern for their welfare.

It was, however, his decision, and not the editorial, that got him in trouble. It was his D.C. government superior, and not the editorial, that decided he should be laid off. There was no reason to censure his dismissal, either; he should have been fired.

Still, I wasn't untouched.

I could not, with wide-eyed innocence, pretend that the harsh editorial had no impact on her husband's fate. I felt then, and I believe now, that I could not be absolved of what happened to him. The editorial may have had a bearing on the outcome.

Words have consequences -- a lesson I've learned, and relearned, after nearly 20 years of editorial and column writing.

Which makes Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly all the more unbelievable when he holds himself harmless in creating the atmosphere that helped diminish the humanity of George Tiller, the Kansas doctor who performed late-term abortions.

O'Reilly used his show, "The O'Reilly Factor," to demonize Tiller.

A few of his words, as reported by Salon.com: Tiller "destroys fetuses for just about any reason right up until the birthdate for $5,000." Then-Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius "doesn't seem to be real upset about this guy operating a death mill, which is exactly what it is, in her state, does she?" And: "No question Dr. Tiller has blood on his hands."

No calls to murder, for sure. And certainly no license for the suspect in Tiller's death, Scott Roeder, to gun down the doctor last Sunday during services at a Wichita church.

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