Thursday, July 20, 2006

Vertigo For The Village Green Preservation Society

The Siren Call of the Abyss

What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.

-Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Sadly, No! posted an interesting excerpt from a conversation between a couple of media personalities concerning the recent anthrax scare at the New York Times [emphasis mine throughout].

[W]hat should be done with Ann Coulter, who has argued that The New York Times should have been blown up by Timothy McVeigh and that Times executive editor Bill Keller should be executed by firing squad?

This was the question one Times source asked on Friday after an employee at the paper of record received an envelope with an X scrawled through it and a suspicious powder inside. "This thing makes all of Ann Coulter's comments a little less funny," said the source. "I wonder if she considers herself at all responsible when lunatics read her columns and she says that we should be killed."
A little less funny? Really? So, before the predictable results of Coulter's continued violent exhortations manifested, all those comments about killing you was kind of funny? LOL.

And in answer to the question posed about whether Coulter feels responsible for the results of her words, the answer is quite clear: Not at all. She may claim, when convenient, that these calls for violence are humorous - "funny" ha, ha; get it? - but I doubt that much of her audience is laughing. Why would they? Aside from her occasional half-hearted dodges, Coulter gives them no reason to believe she is arguing in jest.

For example (and there are myriad), when given the chance to clarify her infamous statement that her "only regret" about the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City was that McVeigh hadn't bombed the New York Times building in NYC, Coulter goes for a real gut-buster:

When I told a New York Observer reporter that my only regret was that Timothy McVeigh didn't hit The New York Times building, I knew many would agree with me -- but I didn't expect that to include The New York Times. And yet, the Times is doing everything in its power to help the terrorists launch another attack on New York City.
And by "agree with me" she means...think that it was a joke and not agree? How odd. As Travis from Sadly, No! noted, browsing through the comments to Coulter's most recent column provides absolutely no indication that any of those chiming in view her work as primarily dark humor. On the contrary, her opinions are treated as unvarnished truth. One commenter said of Coulter that she uses, "irrefutable logic and documented facts." Another noted:

No one on the left talks like Ann Coulter. She states facts. The left speaks in propaganda sound bites that are totally meaningless, are unsubstantiated, lack evidence to support them and are soleley [sic] intended to appeal to the uninformed.
Now that's funny - but not in the way intended. The willingness with which the media endorses, patronizes and promotes the violent, eliminationist rhetoric of Coulter and her ilk is simply astounding (also discussed here). It's as if they fail to realize - or don't want to acknowledge - that so much of the menacing language is directed at them ("She's talking about those other, uncool journalists, but I'm different").

That is, until the uncomfortable, though inevitable, consequences begin to brush up against them in the form of death threats, revelations of private information (home addresses) and other more overt acts of violence. But even then, will Coulter and her kind suffer for this or will they continue to be given prime access to the venues they so openly want to destroy and ravage?

It is as if journalists in America have been looking down from atop a precarious precipice, but listening for far too long to the seductive voice that tempts them from the abyss. They've lost their fear of the urge to jump. It's almost like they want the backlash.

Smile When You Say That

We are the village green preservation society...
God save strawberry jam and all the different varieties
We are the custard pie appreciation consortium...
God save little shops, china cups and virginity
We are the skyscraper condemnation affiliate
God save tudor houses, antique tables and billiards
Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways for me and for you
What more can we do?

-The Kinks, The Village Green Preservation Society
Glenn Greenwald has done invaluable work documenting the endless stream of treason accusations and calls for the violent deaths of journalists/political opponents issuing forth from some of the most prominent Right-wing blogs and pundits.

As Greenwald observes, despite the frequently employed rhetoric of mass violence, the media has consistently ignored covering the subject. Instead, there has been a confounding preoccupation with the level of vulgarity being used in liberal blogs. Well, shit. From Greenwald:

Many journalists seem to be under the impression that using bad words in a post or an e-mail is not just equal to — but worse than — daily calls to hundreds of thousands of readers in the right-wing blogosphere for journalists and mainstream political figures to be treated as traitors and arrested and/or hanged.
Don't get me wrong, I think some of the mindless invective hurled by those on the Left is, well, mindless invective. It doesn't contribute a heck of a lot to the dialogue, and often serves to create an escalating level of distracting noise. People tend to take your arguments less seriously when you resort to base insults - and not without good reason often times. I don't fault the media, necessarily, for getting hung up on trying to maintain some level of decency (though George Bush's recent use of "shit" and Dick Cheney's "go fuck yourself" don't seem all that proper to me either). But it is not the same thing as calling for violent death. Perspective please. Greenwald offers a telling anecdote:

In response to all of this, blogger Terry Welch noted on Sunday that the Washington Post’s media reporter, Howard Kurtz, was scheduled to have an online chat the following day, and urged readers to attend the chat and ask Kurtz questions about this matter:

Why is the opposition of a candidate considered an "Inquisition" from the left, but death threats from the right get ignored? Why is it worth covering an in-house Kos spat, but not the calls to violence by frequent guests on national news programs like Michelle Malkin and David Horowitz?
Kurtz is a particularly appropriate target for these questions because numerous different parts of his Washington Post have devoted substantial attention to the liberal blogosphere, the vast bulk of it negative and almost all of it bizarrely focused, like a Victorian-era grandparent, on the use of "vulgarity" — i.e., bad words — in blog posts and e-mails. [...]

But it seems that journalistic choices are beyond satire these days. Several people followed Welch’s suggestion and attended Howard Kurtz’s chat this week in order to ask him why journalists cover every petty detail of the liberal blogosphere while ignoring the extremism and increasingly violent rhetoric in the right-wing blogosphere, much of it directed at journalists. Several times, Kurtz attempted to dismiss the point by invoking the favorite journalistic tactic of the False Equivalency masquerading as objectivity, dismissively noting that it "seems to me there is considerable anger on both sides." But when pressed a third time about the lack of media discussion over the rhetoric and tactics of the right-wing blogosphere, Kurtz had this exchange:

Philly, Pa: Howard, come on..."Seems to me there is considerable anger on both sides."

Are you serious? What lefty blogs or pundits have called for the hunting of reporters? What lefty blogs or pundits have called for the gassing of those they disagree with (Melanie Sloan), or the firing squad (Coulter)? There is definitely a difference!

Howard Kurtz: If you got the email I get, you’d know that passions run high on both sides. I don’t know of any liberals who have suggested that journalists be executed, but many are plenty angry at media coverage of Bush, Iraq, you name it.
So, the reader asked Kurtz about right-wing blogs calling for "the hunting of reporters" and calls for the gassing and/or hanging of political opponents and journalists, and all Kurtz can say is that "passions run high on both sides" — as evidenced by the critical e-mail he gets from liberals. Why can’t journalists understand this very clear point? We’re not talking about garden-variety vulgarity or mean and coarse language. Notwithstanding the media's obsession with the "Angry Left" in the blogosphere, that sort of vulgarity and rage is extremely common on the Right, as conclusively demonstrated by these posts just from this week alone — all in response to my posts and virtually all of which were promoted by Instapundit.
I would also emphasize the fact that Kurtz was referring to emails he received. Surely, the rhetoric catalogued by Greenwald would be darker and more insidious if he were to stoop to referencing emails and comments sections from Right-wing sources (which tend to be far more unhinged). But that is not the case: we're talking about the language and ideas of actual Right-wing pundits and prominent Right-wing bloggers - not random utterances from the peanut gallery.

Regardless, it is imperative that journalists wise up to this very disturbing, and burgeoning, trend in our country: blaming journalists and the Left for being treasonous and sabotaging this nation's goals. With that established as "Point A," "Point B" is obvious. If you want a good guide to decoding the major narratives at play, you can start by perusing the titles of Coulter's many books. Not coincidentally, it's all there.

While it may be uncomfortable for journalists to chronicle and confront these virulent strains of modern political thought, such a reckoning is long overdue. The longer you ignore it, the worse it gets. The more you offer a podium and megaphone to its primary proponents, the greater the risk that you will reap the whirlwind. It's time to call a spade a spade, even if the Right will accuse you of "bias" for objecting to someone calling for your death by gas chamber, firing squad or hanging (most don't want to give you the choice by the way).

And in the interest of maintaining civility and decency, and as a nod to the proper Village Green Preservation Society Press Corp, let me say: Pretty please. Thank you very much.

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