BOB GARFIELD: We're back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Tuesday was the first time most Americans heard of the renegade Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, the day after he was gunned down in the town of Hilversum. Prior to that he was referred to very rarely in the U.S. press and then only as one in a growing list of European neo-Fascists led by France's Jean-Marie Le Pen. For example, Steve Erlanger wrote in the New York Times that "Mr. Le Pen and others who have modernized their Fascism like Jorg Haider of Austria and Pim Fortuyn of The Netherlands have made extraordinary showings in percentage terms." And a week earlier, the Chicago Tribune referred to Fortuyn as a "demagogue" and an "immigrant basher." But the obituaries offered a more nuanced portrait. His differences from Le Pen were highlighted, and the New York Times noted his more ambiguous status as a, quote, "former Marxist who defended an eclectic mix of ideas both left and right." Joining us now to examine the shifting picture of Pim is Mickey Kaus, curator of the Kaus files which you can find at Slate.com. Welcome to the show.
MICKEY KAUS: Glad to be here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now the image of Pim Fortuyn in death really does seem to be quite different from his image in life. Is this part of the long journalistic tradition of obits, say, speaking slightly less ill of the dead?
MICKEY KAUS: Well that is an American tradition; it's not a British tradition, but it is an American tradition. I, I think there's more at work here. I think the New York Times is playing catchup as it were for the easy assimilation of Fortuyn with Le Pen and the other really far right, almost fascistic European politicians. They're, they're playing catchup and approaching the truth while they're doing it. It's clear that Erlanger was completely wrong when he said that he was just a modernized Fascist. This is a man who believes in gay rights, who supports legalized drugs, who supports democracy. So he's an interesting mix and his main thrust, the main unique thing about him was his anti-multiculturalism. That doesn't make somebody a fascist.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Okay. But most newspapers aren't even going to bother writing about the fourth most popular politician in the tenth most populous European nation. And the ones that did, as you say, relied on a certain shorthand. So let's go through some of those key phrases, and you tell me if they're accurate. "Right wing politician."
MICKEY KAUS: Fortuyn was on the right wing in many of his positions. It doesn't capture the eclecticism. It, it, it's an example of-- the press finding it hard to come up with a new term to describe somebody who is a little weird and doesn't fit into existing categories.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: "Anti-immigrant politician." Was that label accurate?
MICKEY KAUS:It, it's about 50 percent accurate; 60 percent accurate. His line was that immigrants were welcome as long as they assimilated to the Dutch culture and there should be no more immigrants until the immigrants that were already in The Netherlands had been assimilated.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How about "neo-Fascist?"
MICKEY KAUS:Wildly inaccurate I would think. He, and he took particular umbrage at that label. I mean he, he was nationalistic; he defended his culture; but in, in virtually every other respect he was the opposite of the traditional positions Fascist parties take.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So for all the reasons of his eclectic political positions, he, he seems to have been different from Austria's Haider and France's Le Pen. What else made him different?
MICKEY KAUS: What, what made him different and what made this such a big story and even a bigger story than Le Pen and, and sort of under-covered in the American press wa that he was about to win or do very well. He very well could have been the next prime minister of The Netherlands in a way that Le Pen was not poised to produce any sea change in French politics. So that's why I think the story in Europe was perceived as huge, whereas in the United States was just a footnote to Le Pen. Le Pen gave the story a, a sort of booster that was warranted but that it also placed it in the wrong context.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Perhaps Le Pen himself doesn't represent a rising trend towards Fascism. Maybe he's just a product of the French left cannibalizing itself and that there isn't a Fascist trend sweeping Europe right now.
MICKEY KAUS: Oh, I, I think, I think you're on to something. You know, he got 17 - 16 or 17 percent of the election - one election - the next election he gets a couple of percentage points more and he happens by accident of mathematics to come in second, and all of a sudden he's this huge threat. He's largely a protest vote in sort of a similar way that George Wallace was a protest vote, and neither represented incipient Fascism. One of -- I write for the - in cyberspace I, I write what's called a "blog" [sp?] - which is a web diary on the internet, and the internet is filled with people who feel that it's verboten to be anti-multicultural in the United States; that they're not allowed to say that Judeo-Christian culture is better than Islam, for example, or that Islam is better than Judeo-Christian culture. We're supposed to say "diversity is good; all cultures are equally good," and, and they feel that there's a conformity to the American debate on that subject and I think they're right. And Fortuyn burst through a similar taboo in Europe. We have yet to confront somebody who is bursting through that taboo here, although after 9/11 there certainly was a lively debate on whether Islam and the West were in fact compatible.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Can you compare the difference in the coverage in the mainstream press and that on the web?
MICKEY KAUS:He was almost idolized on the web. He, he was a guy who was willing to speak forbidden truths; he was an interesting guy who had sort of forged a new ideology out of bits and pieces of other ideologies. He was neither left nor right. And it's almost as if the, the vast majority of commentators on the web sort of wanted him to win, and in the mainstream press he was just another Fascist.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:From what we hear on talk radio, from, from the likes of Pat Buchanan and Michael Savage [sp?] and Matt Drudge is that Fortuyn's life helped explode a lot of liberal myths -- that you couldn't be gay and right wing; that animal rights people were good and-- and people who were against animal rights were bad, since Fortuyn was killed by an animal rights activist -- and that his whole life was a, was a rebuke to the straightjacket of liberal politics.
MICKEY KAUS: Oh, I think they're right about that. I agree with all those things you said, but I wonder of Fortuyn was running in America -- I would think Rush Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan would be horrified and they would be among the first to denounce him for being openly homosexual and flaunting his lifestyle and espousing a c--what they would regard as an immoral set of social values. The right is, is being opportunistic here, but I -- in terms of making a hero out of a man that they would denounce if he was still alive, but - but I think they're right about what you said.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thanks a lot, Mickey.
MICKEY KAUS: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mickey Kaus is the curator of The Kaus Files which you can access on Slate.com. [MUSIC]
"Johann Sebastian Bach's Cello Suite Nr. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008"
by Mstislav Rostropovich - Cello