Conservative radio and television personalities in the United States were unsettled after last week's bombings in London -- not because of the terrorist attack on a major western city, but because too few Londoners were willing to serve as props to support the right-wing ranting of the Americans. After one stoic Brit, who had blood on the side of his face, calmly described climbing out of a smoke-filled subway station, a Fox anchor exclaimed, "That man's obviously in shock."
Actually, the man appeared to be completely in control of his faculties, as did the British journalists who appeared that evening on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor." Host Bill O'Reilly, the king of the hysterics, had a hard time with the Brits, who simply were not as feverish as he had hoped -- and who were genuinely bemused when he started ranting about how much he hated Britain's highly regarded Guardian newspaper.
O'Reilly, like too many other American radio and television commentators, expected the British attacks to provide a new opportunity to hype support for the war in Iraq, gripe about "open borders" and generally spin sorrow and fear into political gold for the conservative cause.
It didn't happen, though not for lack of trying by the folks at Fox.
The Fox commentary following the London bombings was surreal. Brit Hume babbled about how the dip in stock values after the attacks meant it was "time to buy," Brian Kilmeade suggested that a deadly terrorist attack on a country where the G8 leaders were meeting "works to our advantage," and John Gibson bemoaned the fact that the bombs hit London and not Paris. "They'd blow up Paris, and who cares?" chuckled Gibson, the host of one of the network's "news" shows.
But the Fox personalities and their allies in right-wing talk radio found few takers among the British for their efforts to politicize the gruesome developments in the British capital.
Try as American conservative commentators did to get Londoners to echo their pro-Bush, pro-war line, the British generally refused to play along.
This does not mean that most Brits who were interviewed embraced calls for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq or other alternatives to the Bush administration's misguided approach to the so-called "war on terror." But it does mean that, instead of parroting propaganda, the Brits preferred to engage in thoughtful discussions about what had happened, why the terrorists targeted London and what ought to be done to prevent future attacks. Few topics were off limits.
Veteran journalist Gary Younge suggested that the attacks were "Blair's blowback" -- the bloody wages of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision to back President Bush's disastrous decision to invade Iraq. Some members of parliament called for Britain to quickly withdraw its troops from the quagmire. Others suggested that Britain needs to get more engaged in promoting the Middle East peace process. There was no single response, no lockstep approach, because the Brits were angry enough -- and determined enough -- to put everything on the table.
Unfortunately, a thoughtful, nuanced discussion that was focused on finding solutions -- rather than merely venting or promoting a particular political agenda -- didn't fit into the Fox format.
The inability of American right-wing media to recognize honest discourse prevented most U.S. media outlets from recognizing that which was genuinely meaningful and moving about the British reaction.
For instance, U.S. media pretty much missed the one truly Churchillian response to the attacks -- that of London Mayor Ken Livingstone, a committed socialist and anti-war activist, who issued the following statement on the day of the attacks:
I have no doubt whatsoever that this is a terrorist attack. We did hope in the first few minutes after hearing about the events on the Underground that it might simply be a maintenance tragedy. That was not the case. I have been able to stay in touch through the very excellent communications that were established for the eventuality that I might be out of the city at the time of a terrorist attack and they have worked with remarkable effectiveness. I will be in continual contact until I am back in London.
I want to say one thing specifically to the world today. This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at presidents or prime ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever.
That isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith -- it is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other. I said yesterday to the International Olympic Committee that the city of London is the greatest in the world, because everybody lives side by side in harmony.
Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack. They will stand together in solidarity alongside those who have been injured and those who have been bereaved and that is why I'm proud to be the mayor of that city.
Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life.
I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others -- that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail.
In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfill their dreams and achieve their potential.
They choose to come to London, as so many have come before, because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don't want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.
John Nichols, The Nation's Washington correspondent, has covered progressive politics and activism in the United States and abroad for more than a decade. Formerly a writer and editor for The Toledo Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspapers, he is now editorial page editor for The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin.