Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 :::

The first of the cardinal virtues is prudence, and one of its core elements is keeping things in perspective. Some of us rarely succeed, and none of us always succeed, so it's something to keep in mind.

Like Ann Althouse, I'm not really pro-Palin so much as I'm anti-anti-Palin. In particular, I see the following pattern: Palin says something controversial; her haters then latch onto the statement, trying to use it to demonstrate that she is insane; her haters succeed at demonstrating insanity, though not generally hers. Even if they have a point in their response to her, some people inevitably lack perspective, for example, when journalists swear off news judgment. Best on this is probably Jen Rubin.

I take a somewhat similar attitude toward Glenn Beck. You may remember that I kind of went soft on him after his big rally. No, the style of his show (I've spent maybe a total of fifteen minutes watching him) is not my cup of tea, and, yes, he frequently (at least when he raises enough controversy to attract my attention) lacks perspective. In fact, this last vice overwhelms quite a bit of what I see from him, so I usually think of him as usually having gone overboard, but I think people who accuse him of meanness or ignorance are generally themselves too quick to judge and, likely, underinformed. From what I've gathered, he's a good guy who is pretty intelligent and informed and has always, as far as I've known, had his basic facts right, but has frequently extrapolated too much from them. He actually reminds me - if you couldn't forgive a digression, you wouldn't have come here - of the people who say Bush knew about 9/11 in advance because one of his daily briefs mentioned, as one possible threat, terrorists hijacking airplanes. That really was in a daily brief he got on August 6, 2001, and if all you know is that the CIA presented this as a possibility, you might think the administration should have looked into it a bit more. But the brief itself described this as a sensational threat that couldn't be corroborated, and we don't know what was in the daily brief of August 5 or August 7 or any other day. From what I've seen, Beck, similarly, focuses on evidence in favor of his thesis.

Apparently, one of Beck's betes noires is radical academic Frances Fox Piven. I'll acknowledge that I don't like her, as she opposes civilization and I do not, but I find it eminently plausible that Beck has exaggerated her importance. There has been some noise made recently (I think this stemmed from a New York Times article) that some of the commenters at Beck's website made threats toward Piven; as Glenn Reynolds, Ann Althouse and Ron Radosh note, Piven, unlike Beck, has herself advocated violence. I think Beck has a moral obligation to at least disclaim and perhaps remove any threatening comments at his website, and, of course, to cooperate with the authorities if anything rises to the level of criminality. But Beck should not be asked to stop telling the truth about her just because some of his followers overreact; in particular, the "Center for Constitutional Rights" has called on Beck to stop making "false accusations" about her; as far as I can tell, the assertion that he has made false accusations about Piven is itself a false accusation. And the New York Times article playing up the vilest comments from Beck's website while downplaying Piven's support for rioting at a minimum lacked perspective.

Speaking of cable opiners who often lack perspective, Keith Olbermann and MSNBC abruptly parted ways last Friday. Most allusions I have seen have described this as his being fired, but the most detailed (which I don't seem to have saved a link to) indicated that he wanted out, but wanted at least some of the money remaining in his contract. As John Hayward notes, some of his supporters (NB, not necessarily most of them) are crying "censorship", even as they (likely; again, maybe these are other people on the left) support actual government interference in speech. As Hayward notes, a key difference between a network deciding not to air an opinion (if that's what happened) and the government deciding that one mustn't is that there are always other networks, and even other media.

Which isn't to say that government interference in the media is perfectly fine if it's not a comprehensive ban, though it is less damaging. Apparently, NPR's "On Point" recently offered a "debate" on the issue of banning high-capacity magazines between a pro-gun-control supporter of legislation and a mostly-pro-gun-rights-except-on-this-issue supporter of legislation, and not because they were surprised by the view of the gun rights fan. Even if a private network did this, they would have a moral duty to be honest about it (I didn't hear the interview, but I assume they implied that they looked for a fan of the second amendment and just happened to end up with one who had reservations). But a network that is being publicly funded should not only be honest, but actually somewhat impartial.

The last time I can remember listening to NPR, actually, was when a host interviewed a guest on the subject of a law (or maybe just a bill at that point) in Ohio to require that voters present IDs. The way the interview went made it sound like the opponents of the law (including the guest, of course) opposed it because it would disproportionately burden poor black people while the supporters of the law liked it because it would disproportionately burden poor black people. A left-wing version of Rush Limbaugh would have mentioned that supporters talked about voter fraud, even if only to dismiss their concern, but the word "fraud" was not uttered in the course of this interview. After ten or fifteen minutes, the guest mentioned that the Ohio secretary of state (I think) was a supporter of the law. The host's next comment started with the phrase "to be fair," leading me to think he might finally mention the supporters' reason for proposing the law. Sadly, no; he merely thought it important that the listeners know some context, presumably for the sake of perspective: the secretary of state had campaigned for Bush's reelection.

I nearly exploded at the time, but, looking back on it, I have to give the host some credit. He was right, after all, that we should be sure to keep things in perspective.

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::: posted by Steven at 11:55 PM

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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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