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Bill Berkowitz: Schlussel Carves Up Marla Ruzicka

Schlussel Carves Up Marla Ruzicka

Debbie Schlussel, a right wing columnist and radio talk show host, out-Coulters Ann Coulter and out-Phelpses Fred Phelps
By Bill Berkowitz

On a recent Saturday afternoon in Iraq, Marla Ruzicka and her colleague Faiz Ali Salim were killed by a suicide bomber while on the Baghdad Airport road traveling to visit an Iraqi child injured by a bomb. Marla Ruzicka was in Iraq working with the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), a non-governmental organization she founded in 2003, to compile statistics of Iraqi civilian casualties. Since the US government has claimed since the beginning of the War in Iraq that it doesn't keep records of the Iraqi dead, Ruzicka took on that monumental task. (For more on civilian casualties in Iraq, see Iraq Body Count.)

Debbie Schlussel is a right wing columnist and radio talk show host. Her columns trash liberals and progressives and the causes they espouse. Angry at the way the liberal press rushed to turn Marla Ruzicka into a saint "ahead of [even] the Pope," Schlussel provided the "reality check" -- an eight-hundred word screed asserting that "Marla Ruzicka's sole purpose is to legitimize our enemies, cause problems for U.S. troops already in harm's way, and morally equate dead terrorists with victims of 9/11."

Marla Ruzicka, to paraphrase the words of Robert Kennedy, saw things as they were and unwaveringly set about to change them.

Debbie Schlussel? She has her own mishegos to deal with.

Topeka's Fred Phelps

The Rev. Fred Phelps came to mind while reading a critique of Schlussel's column trashing Marla Ruzicka. For years, the Rev. Phelps, the anti-gay buffoon who operates out of his Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, has picked at the bones of the dead. The anti-gay rants at his God Hates Fags and God Hates America web sites, and his and his clan's appearances at funerals and memorial services, have garnered so much bad press over the years that even your run-of-the-mill fundamentalist Christian preacher is embarrassed by him. Ironically, the clan's histrionics tend to make your hate-filled anti-gay fundamentalist pastor look darned near benevolent by comparison.

The Phelps crew specializes in high-profile pickets of funerals and memorial services of gays. At the Matthew Shepherd funeral -- the young gay man brutally murdered in Wyoming in 1998 -- the Phelps family came bearing signs reading "Matthew Shepherd burns in hell." They've also picketed the memorial services of non-gays, including those like Senator Barry Goldwater and Rep. Sonny Bono, who may have been somewhat sympathetic to gay rights. A shameful and vicious lot, the Phelpses even picketed the funeral of Bill Clinton's mother.

Debbie Schlussel doesn't carry signs. She slanders the dead with words.

Joshua Frank's critique of Schlussel, entitled "Horowitz's Gang Smears the Dead," was recently published at the web site. (Frank had originally published the piece at under the headline "Ghouls and Cowards: Horowitz's Gang Smears the Dead.") The Horowitz in the headline is David Horowitz -- the lefty turned right wing provocateur that runs a number of well-funded and highly-publicized projects out of his Los Angeles-based Center for the Study of Popular Culture. But Frank's piece had little to do with Horowitz, focusing instead on Schlussel's April 25 column posted on Horowitz's

Schlussel's column "Meet the Real Marla Ruzicka", originally ran April 21 at her web site, . There, the title was "Treasonatrix Barbie: Meet the Real Marla Ruzicka."

Where the Rev. Phelps sees "fags," Schlussel, sees "terrorists." Furthermore, anyone opposed to President Bush's policies in Iraq or Afghanistan are supporters of "terrorism."

In the past, Schlussel has caterwauled about Hollywood: going after actor Sean Penn ("Sean Penn's nutty politics," and "'The Interpreter': Sean Penn's U.N. Mash Note,"), actor Angelina Jolie and director Oliver Stone ("Angelina Jolie and Oliver Stone's Terrorist Problem") and even film critic Roger Ebert ("Thumbs Down: Roger Ebert Helps A Terrorist").

Slandering the dead

Her shameful take on Marla Ruzicka begins by chastising the mainstream media -- the New York Times, ABC-TV's "Nightline," CNN, Time magazine, The Guardian of London and even the Wall Street Journal's "normally excellent" Robert Pollock who "mourned" Ruzicka in "Ambassador Marla" -- for paying so much attention to the 28 year-old's death in Iraq.

Then she turns her attention directly to Ruzicka. The following excerpts selected from Schlussel's column by Joshua Frank:

"It's time to stop worshipping at the alter [sic] of this false heroine. There are plenty of young American men and women ... who've been brutalized or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But none of them got the ... coverage that Ruzicka got -- unless they were anally raped or ... played pro football. That should tell you ... about the media's outlook ... : American soldiers fighting for freedom -- bad; vociferous activist bimbette ... -- very, very good. While it's a sad day when any American gets killed by Islamic terrorists, it's measurably less sad when that American aided and abetted them. ... For Marla Ruzicka, some might call it, poetic justice."

For some unknown reason -- considering that she is similarly equipped -- Schlussel repeatedly refers to Ruzicka's blonde hair: she's calls her a "young blonde" in the lead sentence, refers to her as "that blonde" in the second sentence, and later points out that "her cascading blonde hair and youthful looks" distinguished her from "your average greasy-haired, pot-smoking, hackey-sack-playing, crunchy radical."

Ruzicka was concerned about getting an accurate count of the Iraqi dead, Schlussel charges, so she could "blackmail America into paying monetary settlements for each death."

She then devotes the back half of the column to Ruzicka's links to such radical groups as the Rainforest Action Network, Global Exchange, Code Pink and Human Rights Watch.

Schlussel is a mean-spirited culture warrior with a penchant for writing contemptible columns. That is certainly her right.

Frank calls her an Ann Coulter "wannabe." To reach Coulter-like status may be her desire. Perhaps she thought she'd once again get invited to one of Fox News Channel's talk fests.

Where the Rev. Phelps denies the very humanity of gays and lesbians, Schlussel refuses to recognize the humanity of Iraqi civilian casualties -- refuses to acknowledge that they should even be counted. If you deny Iraqis their humanity, it doesn't take much to dismiss their advocates and to call their death "poetic justice."

In Schlussel's "Meet the Real Marla Ruzicka," the unrestrained and overheated rhetoric of Ann Coulter merges with the unmitigated vileness of the Rev. Fred Phelps, and that is Debbie Schlussel's mishegos.

CIVIC has announced that a memorial service is scheduled for May 14, from 2-4PM, at the Russell Senate Caucus Room (Room 325) at the U.S. Senate in Washington, DC. A Reception/CIVIC Fundraiser at Perry's Restaurant, located at 1811 Columbia Rd. NW in Adam's Morgan, will follow.

For a moving account of Marla Ruzicka's life, see Phillip Robertson's eulogy, "Marla Ruzicka, RIP", and for a thorough dissection of Schlussel's column, see Kurt Nimmo's "Ann Coulter Wannabe Disses Marla Ruzicka: An Email to Debbie Schlussel".


For more please see the Bill Berkowitz archive.

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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