3 Modern Witch Hunts That Shape Our Current World

The Halloween season brings to mind the witch hunts that peaked in the United States in the late 19th century in Salem, Massachusetts. Today that campaign seems wrong-headed and even ludicrous. The people who sought out, tried and burned “witches” were irrational and hysterical, and motivated by their prejudice against and fear of women.

That kind of lunacy remains with us, though it is directed at different groups and the flames are figurative, not literal. Here are three of the most popular targets for people who need someone to hate.

1. The Liberal Media

Accusations that American journalists and media outlets are biased against conservatives have a long history and remain entrenched today. The right wing uses this canard to sow skepticism among voters towards accurate information journalists convey. Meanwhile, the radically right-wing Fox News brands itself as fair and balanced.

Conservatives call out individual reporters, networks and newspapers with accusations of slanting the news against them. For instance, Glenn Greenwald, the reporter who broke the story of Edward Snowden’s leaks from the National Security Agency and himself a critic of Republican George W. Bush’s administration, has accused Time Magazine’s Joe Klein and The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin of liberal bias. BizzyBlog argues that the Associated Press, an information source widely used by the media, is a platform for the Democratic administration. The Media Research Center publishes a book-length instruction manual for identifying liberal bias in the media.

Journalists’ credo is objectivity. They run scared from the “liberal media” canard because if they are seen to be partial to one side they are not credible, so they overcompensate in the other direction. The result is misleading reporting, like the coverage of the current government shutdown and debt ceiling fracas. The situation is entirely the Republicans’ fault: they single-handedly created it and they could unilaterally stop it. But you wouldn’t know that from watching the news on television or reading mainstream papers, because the crusade against the liberal media has conditioned them to give equal weight to both sides’ arguments even when one side is clearly in the wrong.

A Google search of “government shutdown republicans fault” brings up a bevy of news stories about opinion polls assessing how the public apportions blame. Reporters shy away from accurately reporting the facts they gather and instead tell the public what it already thinks.

The right wing’s smearing of the media, and the media’s reactive misleading of the public in the name of objectivity, is one of the conservatives’ most successful strategies to trick voters into supporting them.

2. Freeloaders Who Mooch Off the Rest of Us

In the last presidential race, Republican candidate Mitt Romney said that 47 percent of Americans feel “entitled” to free housing, food and health care, and believe that the rest of us should pay for it. The comment harkened back to Ronald Reagan’s excoriation of “welfare queens,” an allegedly large but largely imaginary cadre of women who lived lavishly through welfare fraud.

The two stories, separated by decades, reflect one theme: that good, upstanding, working Americans are getting fleeced by lazy people who will stop at nothing (short of honest work) to steal their hard-earned money.

This is a fundamental Republican belief that underlies many of the policies they endorse today to punish poor people. Their salt-the-earth campaign against the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) assumes that the millions of people who can’t afford health care coverage don’t deserve it. The Republican House’s version of the Farm Bill included a cut to food stamps, representing a majority vote to sentence poor children to chronic hunger. Right wingers in various localities have passed laws to make homelessness a crime punishable by imprisonment.

If they can’t kill the needy by fire like the witches of the 1690s, conservatives will kill them more slowly with untreated illness, hunger and onerous punishments.

3. The Overweight

One witch hunt that bridges the partisan divide is the battle against fat. There are some good reasons for a public health campaign encouraging weight loss, like lowering fat-related fatalities, but it feeds into widespread, sometimes rabid hatred of people who are overweight. This socially sanctioned contempt finds expression in fat-shaming and, more concretely, in government actions like New Zealand’s refusal to renew the work visa of an overweight immigrant based on his size.

Those who target fat people justify themselves both with public health arguments and with financial fear-mongering that the overweight will empty our pockets to pay for their extra medical needs. They also argue that they are not being prejudiced or unfair because fat is a choice founded on laziness and greed, and helping the overweight overcome these deadly sins is in the sinners’ interests.

The venomous rhetoric against the rotund ignores evidence that overweight does not always correlate with poor health or higher medical expenses, and that many people physically cannot lose weight because of genetic or bacterial factors.

A witch hunt is a broad tide of hate and punishment based on myth that soaks the virtuous along with those who truly are blameworthy. Undoubtedly some reporters are biased, some recipients of government entitlements don’t need them (like wealthy elders, all of whom get Social Security and Medicare benefits), and some fat people could lose weight and do strain the medical system. “Some” doesn’t mean “all” or even “most.” The dragnets against these groups reveal more about the hunters than the hunted. Modern day witch hunts should be scrutinized just as closely as the travesty that put Salem on the map.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

110 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 months ago

thanks for the article.

caca p.
caca p.9 months ago

gay

Jordan Antonic
Jordan Antonic2 years ago

None of these "witch hunts" have shaped anything, as the title implies. I dont belong to any party. The amount of hatred the liberals and republicans have for each other is unbearable and frankly hilarious. Just focus on your own party's bills, ideals, plans, and leaders and stop getting so butthurt about everything. Fat people need to lose weight. Gay people should be straight. offensive? yeah

Mitchell D.
Mitchell D.2 years ago

Romney was just trying to follow in the lying footsteps of St. Reagan, and his "Welfare Queen" horseshit, that sooo many Americans bought.
Fox, and other propaganda vehicles engage in this tactic all the time: accuse the "enemy" of doing just, precisely what one him/herself is doing, in this case offering twisted news. For Fox to label itself "Fair and Balanced" is lie numero uno! But, to give them their due, like most sociopaths, they know just what their audience will eat!

Zoe and Art Oguyo

Oh how we love the Liberals, the Freeloaders ( what a word!) and the Overweight - all being truly American!

A F.
A F.2 years ago

thank you

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson2 years ago

i know of many more victims/groups

Robby K.
Past Member 2 years ago

Suba- if that were the case we wouldn't need but ~10% of the IRS.....

Robby K.
Past Member 2 years ago

Margaret- my point was that 47% is NOT on welfare- not that many. But ~47%, however, do not pay income taxes- that is too many. Especially if you expect a nation w/$17T in debt w/over 14% unemployment that's now lowering people's SS benefits (threatening to cut them- a game that both parties love to play), where businesses are cutting hrs to avoid being forced to pay for the obamacare debacle, etc. How can we stand on just a small part of the 53% who do pay enough taxes to matter? What would that be? 25% of the country? But I FULLY agree w/you RE corporations. Just watching Walmart alone is enough to pi$$ me off there. It's disgusting. But yes, I DO "bemoan" a tax structure that allows agents to target certain political parties. And I have a serious issue w/that organization being in charge of enforcing our adherence to healthcare. Think about that one! And further, I will NEVER accept, nor pay (should I EVER be anywhere NEAR the position to anyway) more than 40% of my income. I'd donate to animal charities & any charity that would work against such ridiculous measures in the first place. 2 out of 5 days is a lot more than the revolution that started this country (from what I understand). And death taxes? My a$$! Now, if only we could get a FULL 35% from the people & YES(!) corporations who're supposed to pay! As I said- our tax codes are ridiculously & intentionally complex & in DRASTIC need of reform (across the board).

pam w.
pam w.2 years ago

Add homosexuals/same-sex marriage to that list. We ALL know how dangerous THEY are! (NOT!)