Violent Speech and the Uninformed Public

I was just on looking at books on politics.  There were a number of books about media spin, political PR, violent speech, angry pundits, and the extreme rightwing. 

It reminds me of an interview that Diane Rehm had last night.  I don’t know who she was talking with, but the issue of loud pundits came up.  Diane Rehm mentioned that there are many more loud pundits on the right than the left, but her guest was reluctant to agree.  Even though he said he leaned towards her view, it was obvious he was being politically correct in not stating the obvious.

Why this reservation?  Conservatives have often (whether rightly or wrongly) called liberals wishy-washy for this very reserved way of speaking.  This guy was a liberal demonstrating the opposite of these rightwing blowhards, but because of his liberal values it felt wrong to agree with what Diane Rehm said.

The problem is such reservation does come off as weak.  Yes, be intelligent and rational, but for God’s sake just say it like it is, speak up, voice your opinion.

As far as I can tell, Diane Rehm is correct.  There are more loud commentators on the right than the left.  Or maybe it’s just the loud rightwingers get more attention.

More importantly, there is a clear difference between loud leftwingers and loud rightwingers. 

On the far right, there are people making wild accusations from calling people socialists to fascists and comparing people to Hitler, Stalin, and Mao (often Obama gets all of these at once; BTW here is an nice short article about Obama and potential threats).  On the far right, there is Beck constantly using violent language and play-acting violence for his audience, there is O’Reilly calling people baby killers, and Bernard Goldberg’s lists of.  Books from all of these rightwingers were found in the home of the Knoxville church gunman, and this gunman specifically referred to one of Goldberg’s list.  These rightwingers refuse any responsibility.  Yes, crazy people are responsible for doing the crazy things they do.  But the people who incite (overtly intentional or not) the crazy people are also responsible.

BECK: Yada yada yada. And every time they do speak out, they’re shut down by political correctness. How do you not have those people turn into that guy?

O’REILLY: Well, look, nobody, even if they’re frustrated, is going to hurt another human being unless they’re mentally ill. I think.

BECK: I think pushed to the wall, you don’t think people get pushed to the wall?

O’REILLY: Nah, I don’t believe in this snap thing. I think that that kind of violence is inside you and it’s a personality disorder.

BECK: So, the shooting in Alabama.O’REILLY: Yeah.

BECK: Did you hear how they described this guy? I mean, it was a typical, you know, “he was a loner. He was quiet. I didn’t know.” I mean, it was really…But what they really described, when they really got down into it, what they said was: “here’s a guy who felt that he had been wronged. He didn’t feel comfortable talking to anybody. He was disgruntled and everything else.” And then he went out and shot a bunch of people. As they were describing him — and they said, you’ve got to go, now more than ever, you’ve got to start talking to people. You have to start connecting with people because we’re going into hard times yada yada yada. As I’m listening to the description. First of all, this guy’s a psycho. Clearly, he’s a psycho.

O’REILLY: Right.

BECK: But as I’m listening to him. I’m thinking about the American people that feel disenfranchised right now. That feel like nobody’s hearing their voice. The government isn’t hearing their voice. Even if you call, they don’t listen to you on both sides. If you’re a conservative, you’re called a racist. You want to starve children.


BECK: Yada yada yada. And every time they do speak out, they’re shut down by political correctness. How do you not have those people turn into that guy?

O’REILLY: Well, look, nobody, even if they’re frustrated, is going to hurt another human being unless they’re mentally ill. I think.

BECK: I think pushed to the wall, you don’t think people get pushed to the wall?

But in Adkisson’s case, he left us this manifesto, which lays bare his motivations and his thinking. And as we can see from the organized nature of the piece, he was no more “insane” than Ted Kaczynski.

No one is blaming O’Reilly or Goldberg directly for the killings that resulted. But there is at least some level of culpability here that they need to face responsibly.

That means dealing with the matter forthrightly: Reporting the whole facts of the matter (particularly that Adkisson was clearly inspired by their own incessant scapegoating of liberals, often with violent language along the lines of “Screw them”) and making clear that in no way did they ever intend these words to be taken as a call to violent action.

Not that they ever will, of course. These guys are big battleships, dontcha know. Why be bothered with such little spitballs as basic decency and integrity?


*For what it’s worth, this is a farrago of strawmen: No major Democratic or liberal figures called either Bush or Cheney morons or fascists, nor Palin a racist; these characterizations could be found among some rank and file liberals (and their views were certainly not groundless), but no major spokesman of the ‘Left’, particularly not of a stature comparable to O’Reilly’s on the Right, ever said such a thing. The story about Steele being pelted with Oreos, meanwhile, has since been pretty thoroughly debunked.

You don’t find the same level of hate and violent speech on the left.  You can find examples here and there, but they’re mostly the exception to the rules.  You don’t see someone on the left who fear-mongers as much as Beck.  The loudest leftwingers are Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore, but in their rants you don’t hear regular references to violence and hatred.  They’re strongly critical and opinionated, but they don’t tend to dismiss their opponents with vague accusatory labels.  Even conservative politicians are supporting and promoting the gun-toting rightwing zealots, but liberal politicians to their credit haven’t supported violent liberal groups such as the Weather Underground.

There is a difference and that difference matters.

George Lakoff realizes the power of conservatives comes from their knowing how to manipulate emotions.  Liberals hold Enlightenment ideals of intellectuality: logic, rationality, facts, objectivity, etc.  However, Lakoff argues that what wins in politics and what gets covered in the media are emotional appeals. 

The questionable part is that Lakoff thinks liberals need to become more emotional as well.  The danger is that fear, anger, hatred, and vengefulness are very persuasive… at least in the short-term.  Throw in blind tribalistic sense of patriotism and Christian righteousness, and the GOP has strong appeal to their message even when that message is contradictory or factually wrong.  But do liberals want to compete with conservatives with opposing emotional manipulation?  The danger is that liberals will get dragged down to the same level.  The challenge is that it’s easier to incite public outrage than it is to inspire public hope.  It’s easier to be divisive than to seek unity, and it’s easier to rant than to offer fair-minded analysis.

I was looking at all of the books on  Some of the authors I’m familiar with to a degree.  I do see them in the media sometimes offering intelligent commentary, but the news media is a very limited format.  Chomsky has often pointed out how it’s impossible to explain complex analysis on tv news.  In-depth discussions of issues are more likely to happen on radio, but even there it’s pretty rare.  There is so much out there that the public needs to know in order to be an informed citizenry, and yet most people are unaware that the information even exists.

Does the news media fail the public or does the public fail itself by being intellectually lazy?  Ideological pundits and emotional appeals are more entertaining.  Do we just get what we want?  But why is the media so willing to give it?  I’m not even sure what is the right question to ask.

To end on a positive note, the internet does seem to be opening up a space for more detailed discussion.  The downside is few people use the internet to research any issue in detail.

Here is a video of the type of thing I’d like to see more of:

The intelligent and moral religious folk (whether Christian, Muslim, or whatever) need to speak out for more worthy traditional values such as love and compassion (now, that would be an emotional appeal I could accept).  It’s not a matter of which political ideology wins rather it’s about how do we make the world a better place.  Hate speech, inciting of violence, and fear-mongering simply aren’t helpful.

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