Column for 16 January, 2011

TOO FAR?

“A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

–Proverbs 15:1

 

Whenever a tragedy like the Tucson Shooting occurs, you be sure of one thing: politicians and the media will rush to spin and counter-spin it for their own advantage.  The “winner” of this tasteless sweepstakes has so far been Sarah Palin, hands down, for her narcissistic focus on herself, refusing to admit that painting bullseyes (as she described them, before her ludicrous claim they were “surveyor marks”) on congressional districts was at best in questionable taste.  Then, to top off her round of self-pity, she claimed she was a victim of “blood libel,” an anti-Semitic term.  Pathetic.  Of course, at this point, we have no idea what motivated Jared Lee Loughner to embark on a bloody murder spree.  We don’t know, and we may never know, if he was just a lunatic like John Hinckley, Jr. or politically motivated like Timothy McVeigh and Byron Williams.  What, you never heard of Byron Williams?  Not surprising, since he was pretty much ignored by the media.  The heavily-armed Byron Williams got into a shoot-out with the California Highway Patrol last summer on his way to shoot up the Tides Foundation, an obscure Oakland-based non-profit that no one had ever heard of.  No one but raving paranoid lunatic Glenn Beck who denounced the Foundation as a sinister cabal bent on “destroying capitalism.”  Williams said later that FOX “News” in general and Beck in particular “blew my mind” and “Beck is gonna deny everything about violent approach and deny everything about conspiracies, but he’ll give you every reason to believe it. He’s protecting himself, and you can’t blame him for that. So, I understand what he’s doing.”  Did Beck explicitly tell this obviously-disturbed person “go shoot up the Tides Foundation”?  No, of course not, but spewing violent, paranoid rhetoric has consequences.  And Beck, who publicly fantasized about murdering Michael Moore, isn’t the only one.  Ann Coulter, whose excretions occasionally appear in this paper, wrote that Timothy McVeigh should have blown up the New York Times, specifying that the editors and reporters should be inside.  She has called for liberals to “physically intimidated” so they realize “they can be killed, too.”  And it’s not just media figures:  Senator John Cornyn, on the floor of the Senate no less, said he “understood” the feelings of people who attacked Federal judges.  Failed Republican Senate candidate Sharon Angle warned that people might take up “Second Amendment remedies” if she didn’t get elected.  Texas Republican congressional candidate Stephen Broden claimed a violent overthrow of the government was “on the table” if GOP candidates didn’t win.  A campaign worker for Rand Paul threw a liberal activist to the ground and stomped on her head.  Private security for Alaska senatorial candidate Joe Miller seized a journalist and handcuffed him.  And this doesn’t even include the fetid swamps of the Right Wing blogosphere, with its’ fantasies of murdering liberal senators and Supreme Court Justices and military coups against the dread Kenyan socialist Nazi Obama.  To be sure, there has been some idiocy on the Left as well, such as former Congressman Paul Kanjorski who suggested Florida Governor Rick Scott should be put up against a wall and shot.  But overwhelmingly, over the past 25 or more years, threats of political violence and the violence itself have come overwhelmingly from the Right with talk radio and television personalities like the droolingly insane Beck leading the charge.  So what’s to be done?  The answer, unfortunately, is not much.  Asking politicians and the media for restraint is akin to asking Jerry Jones for humility.  And if you, like me, support a robust First Amendment, it has to cover even the nastiest spewing from whatever takes the place of a soul in Beck, Coulter, Limbaugh, Savage and company.  They are not likely to moderate their tone anytime soon; inflammatory rhetoric makes money from the mindless zombies who consume it.  Moreover, I wouldn’t want to live in a country where the government decides what is or is not “acceptable” speech.  One possible solution would be to restore the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, to ensure some balance in political advocacy on the public airwaves.  Ironically, conservatives used to support the Doctrine, as a counterbalance against the perceived liberal bias of the media.  Now that television and radio are overwhelmingly dominated by Right Wing propaganda, of course, the Fairness Doctrine has been reduced to a bogeyman used as a fundraising tool.  If, however, the corporate media were obligated to provide equal time to opposing views, maybe, just maybe, we’d get political speech that was a little more high quality than screeching conspiracy theories aimed at the lowest common denominator, but often inflaming the dangerous and the demented.

 

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Published in: on January 16, 2011 at 3:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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