Friday, October 25, 2002

LITTLE GREEN FOLLOW-UP: The flap over MSNBC and Little Green Footballs may have subsided, but my readers had a couple of things to say about it. In the comments section, Chris remarked:
I'm not familiar with LGF, but I have no problem pointing out that MSNBC isn't at all relevant. CNBC is also pointless. NBC's news division has proven that it has no substance behind it by announcing years ahead of schedule that Brian Williams will replace Tom Brokaw.

Chris, the problem with TV network news -- and by extension, their website cousins -- has very little to do with who's the mouthpiece for the words. What matters far more is this: Who's picking the stories? Who's writing and editing them? Whose biases determine the storyline that actually get on the air, and what salient facts get trimmed out due to time limitations? What difficult truths are being regurgitated into easy spoon-sized narratives -- so that they ultimately have as much in common with the "big picture" as does a Chicken McNugget to a living, breathing hen?

If the worst part about TV news operations was that their corporate lackeys are a tad overwrought about keeping their pretty boys all in a row, that would be real progress and I'd be thrilled to pieces.

Bil Sherman adds this:
I dunno, Jay, where you see "moral equivalency," I see "corporate equivocation." The effect may be the same, but the motives are different. Where the former theoretically posits that "every point of view is potentially correct," the latter is more concerned with avoiding the appearance of favoring any "extreme" POV out of fear of offending part of its audience/customer base.

It's not that I'm so obsessed by moral equivalence that I'm determined to see this demon where it does not actually exist. I think you're right, and perhaps a little more accurate, to call MSNBC's dithering over LGF "corporate equivocation" -- and if I'd thought of that phrase when I wrote my original screed earlier in the week, I would have used it myself.

But what concerns me is precisely that, as you also noted, the effect can be -- and in this case, definitely IS -- the same.

People in positions of influence like that MSNBC editor, whose job it is to categorize and characterize everything they pass along their readers, need to understand the real consequences of their little word games. When Will Femia originally reviewed LGF, he found it to be sufficiently meritorious -- for reporting on unpleasant truths about extremist Islamic media and their Western sympathizers -- that he gave it a prized position in MSNBC's rotating link section. But then, on the basis of a very few objections -- and without seriously attempting to excercise his own judgment -- he all but endorsed the exact opposite position: that LGF could be fairly classified as a "hate site." Very likely, he also put that thought into some of his readers' heads for the first time.

This was not merely a matter of trying to please everyone. Femia's extreme mischaracterization bordered on being libelous! -- but of course, even had Charles Johnson felt that he had been sufficiently harmed to seek legal recourse, the damage to his own reputation was already done.

Femia and his ilk need to understand that these kinds of decisions (or non-decisions) have very real consequences beyond whether their own corporate taskmasters approve of their work. The media has certain civic responsibilities; and not everyone recognizes the fine distinction between "playing it safe" and "moral equivalence." When the media allows this distinction to blur into irrelevance, they have to be called on it.

Otherise, I'm afraid that too many otherwise decent folks never give pause to think about what those words -- "moral equivalence" -- really mean.


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