Tuesday, May 17

Turn That Goddam Racket Down, You Hear Me?

My Poor Wife was watching Antiques Roadshow this evening when I finally made it out of the garage and returned from showering off the urethane dust. I plopped down on my guitar chair (it was a clip show, with big winners, including the woman who'd hung the still life with strawberries sideways for thirty years). My wife's religious about the Mute button. So she'd hit it at the end of the show and gone upstairs to get ready for bed, and I grabbed the guitar and was running scales with the picture still on. Up comes the one-minute news update and...gee whiz, the Newsweek story is the Big Story of the Day.

Now, I'm not going to question the news judgement here, and the hypocritical hysteria has been well-covered by Digby, The Poor Man, and
Arthur Silber.

With our present level of public discourse it's enough for me to learn that Michelle Malkin and The World's Greatest Bloggers are flogging a story to know there's something hinky about it. But I'm fifty years old, and I remember within my adult lifetime when that was neither the case with the Right nor with every political discussion. What has happened, and why it has happened, is a long and complicated story. So let's focus on something simple: Why can't we keep things in perspective? Why isn't the story limited by what's actually there, instead of what political hoopla someone's trying to make of it? Don't we all--whatever our political leanings--recognize the sound a tub makes when thumped?

You would not run your life this way. No one would. You'd wind up drowning in mindless vituperation and lawyer's fees. If you find yourself in a dispute, you try to solve it. You listen to what is being said. You collect facts. You act as if kicking a rock will pain your toe, and if you do so anyway you try to limit it to once. Yes, politics is a dirty business. Yes, I've been known to indulge in the occasional "neener, neener". But not, god help me, as though that were the only thing playing in my head, all day every day. At least I hope not.

Newsweek retracted the story that a Pentagon investigation had found Qur'an abuse at Guantanamo. That's plain English, even if it "puzzles" Scotty McClellan. To turn this into a "Lie", to trumpet it as the work of a "liberal subculture", or blame the "penchant for anonymous sources", in the wake of all that has gone on with this administration in Iraq and elsewhere, and the complacent press coverage both have received, is beyond laughable. One way the "real" media could begin to reclaim its lost reputation is by calling a spade a spade, and making the manufactured hoopla a part of the story, instead of its frame.

UPDATE: My alarm clock radio suffers periodic fits of interference, and sometimes in resetting it I wind up on the other public radio channel. So this morning, right on schedule, I woke up to hear NPR's reporter say that Newsweek had "retracted the story about Qur'an abuse at Guantanamo". This is, I take it, one of those examples of professional journalism bloggers are urged to emulate.


Anonymous said...

Except I don't think they *did* retract the story. They apologized, which is not the same thing. Even my partner, who does not have much interest in politics, observed that Newsweek's reaction was likely just something they'd been forced into by outcry and the White House.
Aside from The Poor Man's excellent point that if we were willing to torture people to death in our bottomless prisons, why should anybody believe we would balk at screwing around with a book, especially since religious degradation was clearly a popular tactic, this is not a new story. The White House can deny it all they want, but they're not especially credible.
And no, I didn't miss your point, I've just sort of given up on the proposition that the people on the other side of the debate can be reasoned with. Why is that? Standing at the bookracks in the grocery store store the other day. "Treason". "Liberalism is a Mental Disease". "Deliver Us From Evil". "Men In Black". "Rewriting History". "Savage Nation". Oh, and Michael Moore's "Will They Ever Trust Us Again".
Do they sound like they're interested in talking? In debating? In coming to a reasonable compromise?
At some point I decided to reserve my rational behavior for people who'll be rational in turn. No, I wouldn't, and try hard not to, and hope like hell I succeed at most of the time, run my life this way.
But as time goes on, I become increasingly intolerant of pretty much just one thing: intolerance. And, you know? I'm okay with that. Doesn't seem to bug my conscience at all.
Just getting that off my chest. And, yeah, I know it's pretty much a "They started it", but up until October of last year, no one had ever, and I mean *ever* called me intolerant before. And then a Bush voter decided I was, because I refused to accept that "they found WMD in Iraq" was merely a differing point of view.

James Briggs Stratton "Doghouse" Riley said...

No, there's no sense reasoning with the Hindrockets of the world, sad to say. What I meant by "both sides recognizing tub thumping" is more like "rational people along a wide spectrum finally recognizing partisan argument disguised as news and agreeing it should stop, assuming the media can't do it for itself." And judging by my inadvertent NPR experience, they can't. But then I'm not sure rational people are a majority anymore, either.

Just call me a dreamer.

Jim McCulloch said...

I guess one of the reasons this continues to be a goddamn news event is that it pisses sane people off so much that we can't help yammering about it. I plead guilty. I guess it was the sight of Rummie saying "people died" that has made me crazy. The Secretary of Defense saying that Newsweek's story (quite possibly a true one, IMO) caused human death--this from a man who probably privately considers the Lancet study a feather in his cap and grieves that he can't use it officially in his resumé--has been causing me random fits of rage all day long.

Anonymous said...

I hear ya, huitzil. I'm having the same kind of reaction I had when I heard about the booming coffin business in Iraq. I had flashes of Ann Coulter laughing, *laughing*, and saying that John Kerry would cause a boom in the economy in body bags and coffins.
Molly Ivins advised us to budget our outrage, but I'm not very good at it, I guess.
I think you're right, Riley. The whole tone has just gotten so ugly, so vicious, that there doesn't seem to be any sort of point where we can even meet to have a conversation with the opposition. It's not just about the ideas, anymore. It seems to be about who you *are* so much that you *can't* change your mind or compromise without an idenity crisis.
No one's looking at the other guys as the "opposition party" anymore. Just the "enemy".
And the longer it goes on, the more I realize, I'm doing it too. I'm falling more and more into knee-jerk "If they're fer it, I'm agin' it". And it's increasingly hard to even try to talk to people I think support the politics I'm finding so destructive.
So, something I need to work at. Not really because I think there's any point, but because if someone's willing to discuss things rationally and I don't even try, it just reinforces the walls on everybody's side. And then, there really is no point.
If it helps, Doghouse, there's some sort of survey out (no cite, sorry) that says something like forty five percent of Americans believe "little to none" of what they hear from the news.
So, maybe they are catching on. (Just try not to think about the other possible reasons for that stat.)
(I suppose I should get my own blog and stop eating up everybody's bandwidth, hmm.)