The Joys of Learning

So, there’s been a good political discussion tonight and what it has done is helped me understand why I’m so frustrated about politics in general and the topics of tonight in particular. Since this is Rhodri-length, I’m cutting it.

I’ve been watching a number of Facebook threads tonight and I decided to respond and things went from there. The best thing about this is that not everyone agrees with me. You might be wrong, and I might be right, but at least we’re talking things through. 🙂

The Facebook threads tonight that have me hot and bothered are all about the situation in Wisconsin with Scott Walker. I was immediately struck by the similarities, when you strip the political details away, of that situation with Obama’s first two years in office, specifically the Health Care Reform bill.

On the one hand, Obama used his political majority in the legislature to pass a bill that was bitterly opposed and heavily protested despite universal opposition by the other party.

On the other hand, Walker is using his political majority in the legislature to pass a bill that is bitterly opposed and heavily protested despite universal opposition by the other party.

Elasait basically said, “So? I’ve got a right to disagree with Walker.”

Great point, and I realized it wasn’t the opposition to Walker that bothered me, but rather the tone of the argument. I realized that I was seeing the same people who called protesters by the derogatory term of Teabagger or worse lauding these protesters while having called Obama brave and courageous were now attacking Walker, and yes we got to a Hitler reference almost immediately.

OK, so in and of itself, that’s not necessarily hypocrisy, though I don’t like ad hominem attacks in general. But then the context of the current situation kicked in and I realized that the party that is calling certain protesters Teabaggers and comparing Walker to Hitler is the same party that was so up in arms about the Giffords’ shooting, saying that it wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the negative rhetoric and vicious words and images of the Republican Party, a claim that really had no logical support.

OK, now we have hypocrisy. However, this does not end the discussion. We all are hypocritical at times, usually out of habit as opposed to design.

So, as I’m responding to Elasait, Gabriel, Gwenlianna, and Raudhri on Facebook, I started wondering why? Why are some of my friends, and I’m not actually referring to these that I named specifically, but friends in general, who are good people, really good people, all 900 or so of them Facebook, why are so many being hypocritical on such issues?

And I came up with a theory. I went back and looked at every single comment by my friends on Facebook and LiveJournal pertaining to this discussion. I looked at the comments which seemed to favor one side or the other and then tried to determine where those comments came from.

What I determined in my non-scientific study is that the people who are mostly up in arms about the Walker situation are using vague terms such as “he’s threatened to use the National Guard” and so on. The ones who were taking either a more balanced or more nuanced viewpoint seemed to use more specific terms like: “he’s said he’ll use the National Guard in case prison workers don’t come to work or if the protests turn violent.”

So I started comparing news reports. The most balanced reporting on this issue that I’ve seen so far are the YahooNews reports. CNN’s article, surprisingly, was also fairly balanced, but its headline was inflammatory: “States, GOP, go after teachers in budget crisis.” But the Washington Post and the New York Times essentially only spoke of the Democratic viewpoint in their articles. Also, as I’m looking around I’m seeing all sorts of blogs and reports saying things like: “Walker threatened to bring in the National Guard.” In other words, the vague language. The more balanced reports all included specific details about the use of the National Guard, the specific points to Walker’s bill, and so on. Specifics specifics specifics.

Then as I’m thinking about what I’m seeing in these reporting outlets, I’m thinking about what I remember from the Giffords’ shooting and I recall the same kind of media tactics. The use of crosshairs on Giffords district, as an example, without pointing out how many times that imagery was used by both parties. I’m recalling as well the claims of racism in the Tea Parties. Were there racists at Tea Party rallies? Probably. You get however many thousands of people there are going to be jerks, but I don’t recall those claims of racism as a driving factor in the Tea Parties being substantiated with specifics. However, I’m willing to bet there are a bunch of people in Wisconsin right now who think Che Guevara is a great person. In fact, I’d be shocked if there weren’t a bunch of people out of the thousands there with Che shirts on. I’m not willing, however, to assume that people like my friends are actually a supporter of mass-murder as a political tool, so I don’t necessarily say that such policies are a major platform of these protesters.

In any case, I’m watching as significant portions of the media spin these discussions in harmful ways. And you know what this reminds me of, as I think of media reporting over the years? The response to the explosion of the USS Maine.

What I’m leading to in this whole LJ post is that I think a goodly amount of the political debate tonight, as well as with the Giffords shooting, and with the Tea Parties, and on down the line is a product of yellow journalism. I’m defining yellow journalism as reporting with the goal to influence readership into an emotional response in favor of the journalist’s point of view.

Tonight, the people that were responding with details were generally trying to calm things down and the people that weren’t were responding to the emotional language of their source. I believe that to be true whatever their position in this argument.

I remain unconvinced that the American political climate is harsher than it used to be, but that’s only because the political commentary of the 19th century was incredibly harsh. That being said, there’s no doubt that the political climate of today is indeed harsh.

So I have a plea and a pledge. I ask all of you that whenever you read a news article that pushes an emotional button that you squelch the initial emotion and look for more details, more information, and try to put yourself on a footing where you can debate the political question with specifics, not emotions. I pledge that I will attempt to do so myself. Basically what I’m asking is that whenever you get angry about something to…. wait for it….

Remember the Maine.

12 thoughts on “The Joys of Learning”

  1. Rhodri,

    On a overarching level, I do not disagree with this.

    I believe that both parties have stepped far out of bounds on a national level with regards their discourse, and I believe the national press has reached a level of insanity in which anything is cause for BIG HEADLINES.

    In response to the rest of it, actually, I dislike this for an entirely different reason then the national guard issue. Politics is local, said someone smarter than I am. Wisconsin is local for me. I’m from there. My family lives there. I have personal reasons for my opposition, and really wish I could be in Madison right now. (Ask me privately if you want more information.)

          1. I’m too lazy to go back and check, but I will say I cannot recall ever feeling, in any of our political discussions, that you insulted and despised me or people who think like me. I also can’t recall you ever relying upon emotion to make your argument.

    1. I get that you have more immediate issues. I had actually wondered because I knew you were from either Wisconsin or Minnesota.

      I’m not actually arguing that Walker is doing the right thing. It might be, it might not. I’m not an expert in the Wisconsin political situation.

      What I’m arguing is that the vast majority of people who have weighed in against him are being overly influenced by yellow journalism, don’t really actually know all that many details, and are just using this as another opportunity to vent against Republicans. I don’t think political discussion benefits by any of these things.

  2. For most folks in your circle, what you ask is not so difficult.
    For the mob, you are asking way too much.

    A few years ago, CNN was referred to as the “Washington Post and NYT of television news.” Before that, it was “The News According to Ted Turner.”

    For at least 30 years now, the WashPost and NYT have been openly and sometimes quite vitriolically pushing a far Democrat aligned theme in their reporting. The last 15 or so, they have really upped their slants. Some suggest they increased their slant to compete with the televised 24hr news cycle. Others believe that they just needed to up their rhetoric to give their readership the same “fix”. Some point to the rise in popularity of folks like Limbaugh in the early Nineties as the cause for their increased party fervor over what was already a significant slant from the Post and NYT historically.
    A good number of people who watch news media trends point to the editorial changes in those two sources to be the cause for so much of the extreme prejudice between reporting agencies currently. And what may have been subtle or missed in print is difficult to ignore with the 24/7 news feed and information on demand. Both the last two formats really profit from the additional emotional content as a source to maintain subscribers.

    Folks who have the head to rise above this chicanery and foolishness will. But, those are rarely a large enough demographic for the outlets to chase in order to increase their ad revenue. Hence, the mob will remain barely informed and always with the outlet that feeds them the most emotionally powerful rhetoric that agrees with what they already think they should believe.

    1. Can’t agree more. But just because trying to add reason to political discussion for everyone in America, and for that matter the world is an impossible windmill, that does not mean I shouldn’t tilt at it.

  3. This yellow journalism is the reason why I don’t watch tv news, I read many sources to gain information, and I don’t have political discussions with other people that get too emotionally involved in these type of conversations. The spin the media puts out there is too much angst for my comfort.
    I’d rather suit up and kill a few frenemies. 🙂

  4. What is this “journalism” to which you refer?

    (I think it is largely dead, at least in most mainstream media. Occasional shadows of journalism lurk around the edges, but are beaten back by the most relentless of foes – money.)

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