“Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
The words — those of Joseph Welch — have grown trite and hackneyed by repetition over the last half century. And they’re heavily barnacled with a sort of comforting, but facile sanctimony. But they represent a critical moment in American history, the moment when Senator Joe McCarthy finally undid himself, the moment when his boorishness, opportunism and indifference to the truth finally became fully manifest to the great majority of the American people.
There’s been a lot of talk over the last couple days of a remark Richard Perle made on Wolf Blitzer’s show over the weekend when asked to comment on a critical article about him by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker.
He said Hersh was “the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist.”
It was an ugly comment and a stupid comment. But altogether I think it amounted to more than that. It — along with Blitzer’s response — was a Joseph Welch moment.
Let’s go through the whole exchange …
BLITZER: There’s an article in the New Yorker magazine by Seymour Hersh that’s just coming out today in which he makes a serious accusation against you that you have a conflict of interest in this because you’re involved in some business that deals with homeland security, you potentially could make some money if, in fact, there is this kind of climate that he accuses you of proposing.
Let me read a quote from the New Yorker article, the March 17th issue, just out now. “There is no question that Perle believes that removing Saddam from power is the right thing to do. At the same time, he has set up a company that may gain from a war.”
PERLE: I don’t believe that a company would gain from a war. On the contrary, I believe that the successful removal of Saddam Hussein, and I’ve said this over and over again, will diminish the threat of terrorism. And what he’s talking about is investments in homeland defense, which I think are vital and are necessary.
Look, Sy Hersh is the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist, frankly.
BLITZER: Well, on the basis of — why do you say that? A terrorist?
PERLE: Because he’s widely irresponsible. If you read the article, it’s first of all, impossible to find any consistent theme in it. But the suggestion that my views are somehow related for the potential for investments in homeland defense is complete nonsense.
BLITZER: But I don’t understand. Why do you accuse him of being a terrorist?
PERLE: Because he sets out to do damage and he will do it by whatever innuendo, whatever distortion he can — look, he hasn’t written a serious piece since Maylie (ph).
BLITZER: All right. We’re going to leave it right there.
The closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist. On the one hand, it’s obviously just a silly statement, incomparable to the stakes involved in the McCarthy setting. But it was a despicable statement nonetheless. Blitzer clearly saw it as such and immediately called him on it. And Perle couldn’t even begin to justify his statement. His attempts were laughable. Trust me, if lacking a theme in your articles made you close to a terrorist most of my friends and I would be down in Guantanamo with burlap sacks over our heads. It was a particularly despicable statement considering that Perle’s whole calling card these days is whipping people over the horrible dangers of terrorism and terrorists (not that they aren’t horrible, of course.) For him to shoot back with that word in that context spoke volumes about who he is and what his personal rules of engagement are. To me it was a Joseph Welch moment. I hope others will see it that way too.