Friday, March 26, 2010

Giving Legitimacy to Hate

The faculty of attention has utterly vanished from the Anglo-Saxon mind, extinguished at its source by the big bayadère of journalism, of the newspaper and the picture magazine which keeps screaming, "Look at me." Illustrations, loud simplifications... bill poster advertising - only these stand a chance. ~Henry James

This is the front page of the Washington Post this morning:

Small President Obama, BIG teapartier, on the morning after an event of historic proportions--an event pulled off IN SPITE of the tea partiers, not because of them, and yet the tea party guy gets center stage. (Don't look, Mrs. Graham.  It's not a pretty sight.)   

The online link to the teapartier story has a lovely photo gallery on those nice people and the efforts they go through in order to make their voices heard:

I'm all for public dissent.  I wish we would have seen more of it during the Bush years.  I wish we would have seen ANY of it during the Reagan years.  But for the Washington Post to relegate the president's picture to a small square at the top of the page after an historic achievement in order to highlight the dissenters who are off to join the crazies is tabloid journalism at best and reckless anointing of the fringe elements at worst.

WaPo staff writer Eli Saslow followed a man named Randy Millam as he prepared his protest sign on his kitchen table and drove his "muddy Ford Fusion 50 miles across the cornfields" to Iowa City, where President Obama was scheduled to speak.  Two years before, Millam lost his job as an assembly-line worker at Kraft Foods, and he was angry.

"Millam's resolve Thursday was reinforced by the sense that he was taking part in a movement -- a rising tide of anger, fear and vitriol in the wake of the health-care overhaul signed into law by Obama this week. Millam joined a chorus of discontent surrounding the president's visit: a warm-up protest Wednesday night, a greeting party of protesters waiting at the airport and hundreds more with plans to chant outside the downtown arena while Obama spoke. In the hours before he left for Iowa City, Millam watched reports on Fox News Channel about vandalism at Democratic offices and visited a Web site of the conservative "tea party" movement, where he was inspired by a Thomas Jefferson quote about how bloodshed might be necessary to protect a country from tyranny.
"I'm not ready for outright violence yet. We have to be civil for as long as we can," Millam said. But, he added, "we are watching the infrastructure of this country crumble under our feet. The government doesn't want to hear us. We have to make them listen."

Mr. Saslow apparently never got around to asking Mr. Millam how exactly he would go about "making them listen". When you're writing a feel-good story you want your readers to feel good. The jolly Mr. Millam is just a'jawin' when he mentions the Jefferson quote (The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants). It's all in fun.

"'The president just about declared war against the American people last weekend,' [Millam] said. And it is a war Millam intends to fight."

Hey, Eli!  Did you even read your own piece?  The guy is giving you signals, and you're not picking up.   His anger over not having a job is legit.  Boy, can we all relate. (Those Bush years were doozies.)  But by giving him and his buddies everyman status, heroes of the people, out to right a wrong by any means necessary, you've given them license to do damage.

Where was the other side in that article?   Here:

"By now a group of about 200 Obama supporters had stopped to watch and listen, congregating across the street from the protesters. Seven police officers stood in the middle of the road, monitoring both sides. On one sidewalk: Obama T-shirts, health-care-reform advocates, and students from the University of Iowa, one of whom held a sign inviting Obama to join him at a local bar for Thursday night's $1 you-call-it drink special."

And here:

"Finally, one student walked across. He wore dark sunglasses and carried a poster-board sign, made moments earlier. It read: "These People are Idiots." He stood with the protesters, his sign mocking them, while he listened to an iPod."

Memo to WaPo Front Page editor:   You missed the big news.  The big news is that American health care just took a baby step toward actual reform.  You might be bored with it, it's been going on for so long, but trust me, the millions without adequate health care can't get enough of it.



  1. See... this is what is so scary... Journalism and reporting facts is dead. We are at the mercy of publications to print what ever THEY want. I don't care WHAT your Politics are... signing this Bill into Law was a giant landmark in American History. Period.

  2. Right on as usual, Ramona. It's all about selling the paper and creating sensationalistic news, rather than letting people understand how real history is made.
    As we know, true history is not really made by lunatics like these Teabaggers (Please call them Teabaggers, not teapartiers, as they hate the teabagging term they adopted without realizing what they were doing. I think it suits them well!).
    Keep writing, Ramona, and telling us the truth.


  4. Lora and Stan, I'm so disappointed in so-called journalists these days. None of them want to be reporters anymore, they all want to go on to stardom. There was a time when good reporters got the respect they deserved, but now they think we want jazz and pizazz. Oh, for a little honest, straightforward reporting again. Think of the grief it could have saved us this last couple of decades.

    Anon, thanks for the link. I'm so glad I'm not the only one writing about this.

  5. The sad part is, the press does this to sell papers and commercials. Controversy is good for ratings, in-depth reporting, not so much.

    We see it regularly on the national news and in the Times and Post. Things get more and more gossipy, with less reporting and even less analysis - sacrificed in favor of its counterfeit, punditry.

    Thus the "Let's you and him fight!" flavor of the Sunday morning chat shows, which originate from one spot in DC so the usual suspects can make the rounds easily enough.

    Adding Fox News to that inane mix is like pouring dioxin on an oil spill. And while Fox partisans (and on-air "talent") trumpet their viewership numbers, at their very largest they amount to only a tiny percentage of the population. They're not nearly so numerous as they are noisy.

    And those with the appetite for noise lap it up. It's now less an echo chamber and more a feedback loop.

    And maybe part of it is our fault too. Democrats in general are terrible at messaging. Flat-out terrible. Senator Franken was right when he said that our side's message amounts to "Continued on next bumper sticker..." and that is a very real problem. Where are the Dems who can come up with short, sticky phrasing for message points?

    I'm not quite ready to run for the hills, nor to barricade the door and hide under the bed. I am, though, seeing things get noisy and messy, and I wonder where our point people are.

  6. Okay, Alan, I may have to steal this one, too:

    "Things get more and more gossipy, with less reporting and even less analysis - sacrificed in favor of its counterfeit, punditry.

    Thus the "Let's you and him fight!" flavor of the Sunday morning chat shows, which originate from one spot in DC so the usual suspects can make the rounds easily enough."

    What a great description of our muckrakers, our watchdogs, our Fourth Estate.

    I had to laugh at Franken's bumper sticker joke, but when I think about it, the Dems have been stuck in the sidelines for so long, with their opinions so seldom sought after, it could be that they have to talk fast in order to be heard at all. We don't have the luxury of airwaves bought by Australian billionaires in order to sway the public.

    Also, our leaders are cowardly wimps.

    But we're not, and our voices have to be heard. That's why we're all here.

  7. thanks for ur post. teapartiers are just a lame excuse for the media to keep their business afloat. they are loosing big time so the way to catch in is in following the fringe. Where they were during the Bush and Cheney years? How come they never represented the thousands of people that stood up to that regime? they were scare! And now they still accomplice to corporations that buy their adds

  8. I love to crack wise that Obama, on his first day as a new President, moved quickly to strip Americans of their liberties and freedoms...but after an exhaustive search he realized that Bush hadn't left any behind.

    I too wish the vigorous opposition had been a little more vigorous that previous two terms...but partisans really let us down. Their party was more important than any principle...and we've paid dearly for that.

    Well written, Voxmagi

  9. voxmagi, principles...gone, long gone. I wouldn't have believed it, but I'm still waiting for signs of principle.

    What a huge disappointment.


I welcome your input and want to keep this as open as possible, so I will watch for and delete comments that are spam, vicious or obscene. Trolls not welcome. We're all adults here.