Bill Moyers on yesterday’s Bill Moyers Journal offers up some advice (you can watch a video clip of the same content here):
With all due respect, we can only wish those tea party activists who gathered this week were not so single-minded about just who’s responsible for their troubles, real and imagined. They’re up in arms, so to speak, against big government, especially the Obama administration.
But if they thought this through, they’d be joining forces with other grassroots Americans who will soon be demonstrating in Washington and elsewhere against high finance, taking on Wall Street and the country’s biggest banks.
The original Tea Party, remember, wasn’t directed just against the British redcoats. Colonial patriots also took aim at the East India Company. That was the joint-stock enterprise originally chartered by the first Queen Elizabeth. Over the years, the government granted them special rights and privileges, which the owners turned into a monopoly over trade, including tea.
It may seem a stretch from tea to credit default swaps, but the principle is the same: when enormous private wealth goes unchecked, regular folks get hurt – badly. That’s what happened in 2008 when the monied interests led us up the garden path to the great collapse.
Suppose the Tea Party folk had dropped by those Senate hearings this week looking into the failure of Washington Mutual. That’s the bank that went belly up during the meltdown in September 2008. It was the largest such failure in American history.
Patriotic, salt-of-the-earth. Or misinformed and angry?
On tax day we took our politically diverse Teen Square meeting on a road trip – a few city blocks down the road anyway – to the Tallahassee tea party “We the People” event. We asked this group of every flavor of political orientation and demographic to take a Rorschach test of sorts: What did they see when they looked at the tea party and how might they have seen something different had they brought with them a different set of political opinions to see it through?
We looked for the wholesome family-oriented tea party. We looked for the kooky, angry tea party.
Of course, as you would with any large group of people, we found them both.
Pre-Village-Square, the chance that I would attend a tea party was near zero. I am offended by the characterizations of President Obama. While I relate to fiscal conservatism, I think too many tea partiers have long ago left planet earth in their assessment of our president’s bio and motivations.
But texture disappears in looking at anything from afar while it is immediately apparent when you take a closer look. Had I gone to the event to confirm my bias, it would have been a stretch. This tea party on this day seemed conscious of how they looked to the outside observer, the mood was more picnic than fury, the signs communicated a perspective far more than they offended and even the opinion was more diverse than you’d expect.
Agree or disagree with the politics of the tea party, you have to give it to them on at least one point: It’s hard to argue that we don’t have a national fiscal crisis.
I was approached with literature for a city commission candidate running against a friend of mine. He told me his candidate was giving the liars on the commission hell. I told him that he wasn’t correct that his candidate was running against someone I personally know is honest and honorable. The man sincerely apologized. I hope he at least considered our conversation as he approached the next group of voters. These are the conversations that never happen when we spin entirely in our own ideological circles.
I caught Fox News discussions touting new polling indicating that tea party supporters are, on the average wealthier and more well-educated than the average American.
Then I flipped the channel to MSNBC to hear Lawrence O’Donnell (Keith Olbermann’s stand-in) describe the very same poll:
“A remarkable poll gives us a solid picture of just who the tea party movement is. They are older, they are whiter than America. They earned more money and are better educated. That’s right, they’re the elite, well-off intellectuals of sorts who are out of step with the real America and they are very deeply confused.”
So the national food fight continues, the twisting and contorting of complexity to fit this or that predetermined black and white version of reality. I have a hard time envisioning how this will end in a way that doesn’t truly damage the country we all claim to love. If “We the People” continue to lap it up, maybe we deserve what we get.
The post-Carl Kuttler era began Tuesday when the St. Petersburg College board of trustees chose William D. Law Jr. as the school’s next president. The selection of Law, the 61-year-old president of Tallahassee Community College, was touted as a safe choice in a climate of tightening financial times that could propel the school past months of negative publicity that followed Kuttler’s surprise resignation last year. “(Law) is tried and true,” said trustee W. Richard Johnston. “He’s geared in his career to handle an institution like this.”
Having personally met the first person sent to prison for the crimes surrounding the Watergate break-in – the delightful, humble and wise Bud Krogh – I know that you can’t paint people with too broad a brush. So here are some words you might find meaningful whichever side of the aisle you find yourself on? Or maybe these are words you might find challenging, no matter what side of the aisle? Well, either way, here goes: Chuck Colson, of Watergate infamy and now a widely read Christian writer, on the rising populist anger as expressed in the tea party:
… The inevitable consequence of all of this should deeply trouble Christians, who, of any segment of our society, understand the necessity of a strong government. The Bible teaches that God ordains government, appoints leaders, and requires obedience so that we might live peaceable lives. Why is this? God recognizes that even a bad government is better than no government. No government leads to chaos and mob rule. When order breaks down, justice is inevitably undermined. As Augustine of Hippo argued, peace flows from order, and both are necessary preconditions to the preservation of liberty and some measure of human dignity and flourishing.
This is why great leaders of the faith throughout history have held government in such high esteem. Some, such as John Calvin, considered the magistrate the highest of vocations…
“The tea party movement may have a lot of traction in America today, but it makes no attempt to present a governing philosophy. It simply seeks an outlet – an understandable one – for the brooding frustrations of many Americans. But anti-government attitudes are not the substitute for good government.We should be instructing people enraged at the excesses of Washington and the growing ethical malaise in the Capitol to focus their rage at fixing government, not throwing the baby out with the bath water.
We Christians are to be the best citizens, praying for our leaders and holding them in high regard, even as we push for the reforms desperately needed to keep representative government flourishing. Only when we funnel frustrations into constructive reformation can we expect a government that is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
(Photo credit and – as is often the case when we find a good article – thanks to Lea, Queen of All Things Internet.)
The year is 2020, and all that remains of print journalism is the New York Times, USATODAY, and the National Enquirer. Google has been broken up into twelve competing companies. 97.9% of all news websites have installed pay walls. All state and local public records are available on-line…for a fee. Vice President Marco Rubio has inherited the Oval Office from President Sarah Palin, who resigned to resume her career as a journalist.
That’s the way it was in a world conceived by Miami First Amendment lawyer Tom Julin for The Florida Bar’s annual Media Law Conference. The Conference dates back to the 1970s when Wall Street was beginning to see journalism as a cash cow, rather than the watchdog the Founding Fathers intended. In the 1980s, as media companies profit margins climbed past 30%, hundreds of lawyers, judges and journalists crowded into hotel ballrooms to hear media A-listers opine on the future of journalism. Times and travel budgets being what they are, the 2010 Conference was a far less lavish affair.Â At times, the speakers outnumbered the paying audience.
One can only wonder how 20th century Conference speakers like Katharine Graham, Abe Rosenthal and Fred Friendly would have responded as Julin prodded veteran reporters, academics and fellow media lawyers to answer questions which have, for decades, vexed journalism think-tanks in 140 characters or less. Julin lightened the mood with James Cameron-level audio visual references to narcissistic presidential hopefuls and their tango-dancing soulmates. Still, it was a sobering picture he painted of a not-too-distant future where the body politic has the attention span of a goldfish.
Some think that day has already arrived, but Conference-goers found reason to be hopeful that real news and well-reasoned commentary will adapt to the new and much leaner environment.
Some of the 21st century’s best explanatory journalism is happening on Comedy Central; Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone have the Peabody awards to prove it. These modern-day Mark Twains provide a national audience the kind of fact-based, impossible-to-ignore editorial voices that Florida used to take for granted.
Howard Troxler and Carl Hiaasen are, thank God, still with us. But Florida’s increasingly anemic editorial pages are no match for state government’s standing army of flacks and flunkies who pay lip-service to transparency while actively obstructing reporters in pursuit of stories their bosses don’t want told.
It’s always cause for celebration when front-page news slips past the government’s spinmeisters and makes it to the front page, and Conference-goers were spellbound as Gina Smith of the State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. described the combination of luck, instinct and shoeleather involved in her pursuit of Gov. Mark Sanford down the “Appalachian Trail” to the Atlanta airport.
To a roomful of reporters who are expected to do impactful investigations while blogging at 20 minute intervals, it was a cheering reminder that one reporter can change the course of history.
A reminder of another kind was delivered by the Miami Herald’s former general counsel Richard Ovelmen. In a moving tribute to his friend and mentor, legendary First Amendment lawyer Dan Paul, who died this year at age 85, Ovelmen recalled how Paul leveraged his bulging Rolodex in the service of all of Florida’s journalists—not just the ones who worked for Knight Newspapers and the New York Times Company in the decades when they could afford Paul’s eye-popping hourly rates.
Under Paul’s direction, Ovelmen recalled, Florida’s media lawyers took up the cause of reporters in places they could barely pronounce.
If a city clerk in Opa Locka withheld public records, or a judge in Palatka threw a reporter out of a courtroom, publishers of mom-and-pop newspapers could count on Paul to declare a constitutional crisis and dispatch an army of lawyers bearing briefs that argued, “News delayed is news denied.”
With 20th century media on life support, displaced journalists are bringing their craft to cyberspace. The lonely pamphleteer is on-line at places like Broward Bulldog, Health News Florida, and FloridaThinks, looking for a business model that will support the never-ending mission of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”
There’s a lot at stake, and The Florida Bar deserves thanks for reminding us that failure is not an option.
Senator Tom Coburn (R- OK) made comments in a town hall last week with a little bit of something for everyone. For The Village Square, Republican Coburn stuck up for rival Democrat Nancy Pelosi, calling her “a nice lady” to a crowd that didn’t want to hear that.
But what was most interesting was to watch the coverage of different aspects of Coburn’s town hall depending on which network covered it.
At The Village Square we have observed an attendance pattern at events: People tend to come to the forum that interests them, therefore we get more conservatives when we talk taxes and and more liberals when we talk environment. We’d like to reverse the trend, for the sake of improving the civic dialogue. So… in that spirit, please note the reading instructions for this blog post:
For Republicans, please read this:
“What we have to have is make sure we have a debate in this country so that you can see what’s going on and make a determination yourself,” the Oklahoma senator said in remarks to a home-state town hall meeting… “So don’t catch yourself being biased by FOX News that somebody is no good. The people in Washington are good. They just don’t know what they don’t know.”
“I want to tell you, I do a lot of reading every day and I’m disturbed that we get things… that are so disconnected from what I know to be the facts. And that comes from somebody that has an agenda that’s other than the best interest of our country. And so please balance and be careful.”
“The U.S. has always been good at disruptive change. It’s always excelled at decentralized community-building. It’s always had that moral materialism that creates meaning-rich products. Surely a country with this much going for it is not going to wait around passively and let a rotten political culture drag it down.” — David Brooks, yesterday’s New York Times
These days journalism is in a bit of a death match with human nature… and journalism is losing.
Maybe it’s not quite a newsflash but journalists are imperfectly human and they do ere. Some are even biased. More than a few of us have found good sport in this, yammering on about bias in (check all that apply):
_______The New York Times
_______”Mainstream” media or as Sarah Palin recently dubbed it the “Lamestream” media)
But then I’m not thinking human imperfection of journalists at all, I’m thinking much closer to home.
Amidst plenty of third-grade finger-wagging about just who the biased sources really are – You! No You! Nooo YOU!! – is way too little “if Johnny jumped off a cliff, would you” perspective, you know the kind that grown-ups usually provide on the playground.
Far from objective, turns out our perceptions of bias are actually a result of a complex, primordial and really quite fascinating stew of both psychology and sociology. To get schooled in the sociology, Bill Bishop’s “The Big Sort” is a one-stop-shop of ah hah moments. See Purple Interviews with Bishop here. On the psychology front, media bias is the ultimate inkblot test, and as a society, we’re in need of more than a few 50-minute-hours of couch time.
So here’s a primer on just three of the many, many ways we human beings fold, bend, spindle and mutilate factual reality (oh do tell me what the heck spindling is). Bad news for the smug: This means you too, not just the people you think have bad taste in t-shirt slogans, yard art and presidential candidates.
Confirmation bias: A phenomena well documented in research, we like the information that supports our view of things, facts be damned. We do all sorts of backflips to confirm what we think is true: We pick new info if we don’t like what we hear, we impugn the integrity of people who tell us what we don’t want to hear, and we even completely forget what we’d prefer to forget. Presto, chango, it’s gone-o…
Biased assimilation: Apparently when it comes to the human psyche, what’s good for the goose is distinctly not good for the gander. A 1979 study gave opponents and proponents of the death penalty contradictory studies on the effectiveness of capital punishment. Rather than creating agreement that the state of the information is inconclusive, each group uncritically accepted the information that supported their view while they subjected the study articulating the alternative view to a harsh critique.
The hostile media effect: A landmark 1984 study of the perception of media coverage of the 1982 Beirut massacre by pro-Arab and pro-Israeli observers demonstrated a strong tendency for partisans to perceive the very same news reports as biased against them – in exactly opposite directions – leading both sides to infer that the personal views of the journalists was opposite of their own.
“Partisans… are bound to believe that the preponderance of reliable, pertinent evidence favors their viewpoint. Accordingly, to the extent that the small sample of evidence and argument featured in a media presentation seems unrepresentative of this larger “population” of information, perceivers will charge bias in the presentation and will be likely to infer hostility and bias on the part of those responsible for it… In cases in which both groups believe that actual program content favored neither side, for example, both groups are apt to protest such “unwarranted” objectivity.”
The most fascinating part of the hostile media effect study is that it isn’t a phenomena created from lack of information or as political partisans would so charmingly characterize in each other as stupidity. Rather the people with the most knowledge perceived the most bias: “These people had the most basis for finding discrepancies in the coverage that was provided and the information that could have been provided.” Maybe it’s just normal that if you understand something in depth, you find the brief survey presented in a news article as inadequate. But biased? Maybe notsomuch.
Perhaps the next time you find yourself blathering on about media bias, you might want to briefly pause to look in the mirror. You’d be looking at someone who owns a part of the problem.
Good things can begin – and always have begun – there.
(Want more than three ways our thinking messes us up? Find a veritable cornucopia here.)
Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today, that three-headed monster facilitates an artificial view of America – one in which every issue boils down to a left/right, liberal/conservative, Republican/Democratic standoff. Americans are now conditioned to choose a side and stick with it. Elected officials and candidates, all too eager to play the media game, emulate that behavior. The lack of decorum carries over from the split screen to the House floor. The cameras and microphones, of course, capture it all. And the cycle starts all over again.
Those who stoke the fires get rewarded with higher ratings fueled by the allegiance of a small but monolithic band of listeners or viewers. Concurrently, elected representatives who parrot what they hear and see experience a parallel growth in campaign contributions. In the days immediately after his “You lie!” outburst, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., was flooded with more than $1 million in contributions. U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., meanwhile, raised $850,000 in the final quarter of 2009 alone after his “die quickly” characterization of the GOP health-care proposal. In short, the common sense of the majority is engulfed by the fervor of a minority fringe. Any sober, substantive messages are cast as weak and unprincipled, and are drowned out by those who insist upon casting each political conflict in revolutionary terms.
That’s the real damage done when people with a microphone at their lips or on their lapels whip the knuckleheads into a frenzy. There’s less time for temperance. Critical thinking is diminished. The actions of a manic few are recorded, projected, and whispered down the lane for anyone with a radio, television, or Internet connection. The debate is cheapened, and, ultimately, the safety of our elected officials is threatened.
If you haven’t already, pick up a hard copy of today’s Democrat to see the cartoon.
(Photo credit Janice Ann Ford & thanks to Christine for pointing us to the article.)
One of the perks of this job is that people are always sending me links to intelligent authors conveying big ideas. Here’s one from last week I didn’t quite get up on the blog… The New York Times’ David Brooks comparing the Tea Party movement to the counterculture movement of the 1960’s:
…both the New Left and the Tea Party movement are radically anticonservative. Conservatism is built on the idea of original sin – on the assumption of human fallibility and uncertainty. To remedy our fallen condition, conservatives believe in civilization – in social structures, permanent institutions and just authorities, which embody the accumulated wisdom of the ages and structure individual longings.
That idea was rejected in the 1960s by people who put their faith in unrestrained passion and zealotry. The New Left then, like the Tea Partiers now, had a legitimate point about the failure of the ruling class. But they ruined it through their own imprudence, self-righteousness and naive radicalism…
A counter-establishment publishes policy papers and holds conferences and its members endure their exile in think tanks and universities. In contrast, a counterculture refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the rules of the game that it has lost. Instead of moving toward the center, the counterculture heads for the fringes. Like a cult, it creates its own parallel reality, seceding from a corrupt and wicked society into morally and politically pure enclaves.
It’s the building up of parallel realities – maybe more than anything – that is devastating our civic dialog and our ability to make good decisions. Take David Brooks. If you lean right and you immediately think RINO when you hear me cite Brooks, you should know that people I know on the left, would roll their eyes and say “puleeze” if I suggested he ever wrote anything left of “Heil Hitler.”
If a conservative centrist columnist looks like a brown shirt to half of us and a commie pinko to the rest, we may just have a bit of trouble brewing…