Friday, October 25, 2002

BRINGING US TOGETHER: Ray Hanania -- the American-born activist/comedian who imagines that anyone whose ancestry can be traced back to Jerusalem is actually of "Palestinian" descent -- will be performing at Caroline's in New York City on Tuesday, November 5. (He's part of the "WABC Showcase.")

I can't decide whether to laugh or cry.

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.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

SAFIRE SPARKLES: Speculating, as is his wont, about foreign spooks and domestic demons, William Safire often appears to have completely lost his marbles. But here, he gives voice to a coldly rational view of reality.

To those who insist that an American invasion of Iraq cannot be rationalized unless there is also a simultaneous, symmetrical stike in North Korea, consider this from today's New York Times op-ed:
America and its allies will not use our military to take out the Pyongyang gang for the simple reason that North Korea already has the conventional troop strength and artillery power to inflict horrendous casualties on the South (including 40,000 U.S. tripwire troops) as well as in Japan, which Pyongyang will soon be able to reach with nuclear missiles.

That strategic fact of life and death invites the question that coolly consistent sophists love to ask: If we are disinclined to attack the nuclear buildup in North Korea, why are we hot to attack a somewhat less imminent threat of mass destruction from Iraq?

Saddam Hussein is a recent, serial aggressor, while totalitarian North Korea has not launched an invasion in the past half-century. Moreover, the potentially high human cost of wiping out the Korean threat should be an unforgettable lesson to every nation: The world must not allow Iraq to gain the level of destructive power that appeasement and misplaced trust permitted North Korea to achieve.

Meanwhile, Happy Fun Pundit reports -- with a deadpan straight face -- that Ted Kennedy still doesn't get it. Teddy is now concerned with the very real threat to our entire way of life, should recent theories bear out that the fabric of our very universe will collapse in a scant 10 billion years or so. Kennedy (D-Coors) had this to say:

To anyone with a sense of perspective, this new and ominous threat to the entire universe vastly outweighs any partisan concerns about a unilateral invasion of Iraq. Let America be a leader in providing humanitarian aid to those in developing countries affected by the collapse of the universe. Let's take those people of the third world who might otherwise be living under conditions like those found in the trash compactor in 'Star Wars', and build them decent housing --- with really strong walls --- to live through universal collapse with dignity.


Wednesday, October 23, 2002

AS A PUBLIC SERVICE -- If you've come to this site looking for streaming video of George W. Bush stumbling over the words "Fool me once -- can't get fooled again" -- which has since scrolled down into the Mind Over What Matters archives -- here's Comedy Central's own video clip (requires RealMedia-compatible player).

Monday, October 21, 2002

MSNBC, HEAL THYSELF: Regular readers of this page have surely noted my frequent links and references to Little Green Footballs, a national treasure among blogs. Charles Johnson should be commended for his tireless fight against worldwide institutionalized racism and antisemitism -- a crusade which, by its very nature, inevitably forces one to take sides.

But in the topsy-turvy, touchy-feely, multi-culti Bizarro World -- where every point of view is arguably correct, as long as you're willing to overlook enough history, context, science and reason -- Charles often takes a lot of heat from those who are deeply invested in a certain emotionally comforting, but intellectually lazy (or fundamentally dishonest) narrative of current events.

Yesterday, MSNBC's Weblog Central feature -- having recently listed Little Green Footballs on their "Best of Blogs" link list -- decided that it hadn't enough professional objectivity to make its own determination whether LGF's one-sidedness rendered it, arguably, the equivalent of a "hate site."

In recommending LGF to MSNBC's readers, Weblog Central editor Will Femia was actually at first, rather boldly asking of his readers that they be prepared to choose sides. But having received a handful of objections from Charles's detractors -- who will remain unnnamed and unlinked here -- Mr. Femia apparently hadn't the courage of his own convictions to stay out on that limb, and swiftly fell back on that old, safe disclaimer: The comments of Mr. Johnson do not necessarily reflect those of this website or the management of MSNBC. More tellingly, Femia invited his readers to weigh in and advise him whether to altogether revoke LGF's prominent link.

This is not merely an act of cowardly editorial ambivalence; it's yet another face of moral equivalence. Femia is saying -- in effect -- that when LGF merely exposes the racist, hate-fomenting lies of the Arab world's state-owned, state-controlled, state-censored newspaper and television broadcasts, LGF is itself equally guilty of anti-Islamic racism. After all, a truly fair and balanced weblog would concede that each side is equally likely to be right in the context of its own culture.

The problem with such lovely sentiments is that some cultural mythologies are both unequivocally untrue and dangerous -- too dangerous to let stand unchallenged. For example, the Jewish Blood Libel, which was published last spring in a Saudi-run newspaper under the guise of a "scholarly" article, is an unconscionable lie. And when its sentiments are allowed to spread, unchecked, to American college campuses where it is embraced as "just another point of view," someone has be ready call the liars what they truly are -- no matter that their feelings may be hurt.

The beauty of Little Green Footballs is that it strives to make its point on factual and intellectual merits -- while its frustrated adversaries can only resort to the smokescreen of blatant ad hominem attacks, in an attempt to discredit the person rather than the argument: i.e.,

  • Charles Johnson's one-sidedness could be interpreted that he himself has a racist agenda;
  • Therefore, he can be wholly dismissed as an unreliable, untrustworthy racist person.
  • No intelligent person would waste any time even bothering to examine the evidence or arguments put forth by a racist website, so it doesn't belong on MSNBC's link list after all.

MSNBC must really be on the skids, if they cannot bear to offend those few dozen readers whose only successful debate tactic is to shout the equivalent of "I know you are, but what am I?"

One could make the point that LGF does have a sort of a public relations "problem," to the extent that its largely unmoderated comments section attracts all kinds -- including a few overwrought wingers on both sides, who are oftentimes a little too quick to verbalize their own baser instincts. But they are vastly outweighed by the number of participants whose contributions are thoughtfully, carefully fact-checked and backed up by amply linked references.

In short, by encouraging such spirited give-and-take, Little Green Footballs is a vertible "marketplace of ideas" -- exactly the kind of forum which is antithetical to superstitious rot, unintentional misstatement and outright falsehoods. LGF is eminently willing give a fair hearing to "alternative" belief systems -- but it will not accept them at face value simply because they are widely held. Only those ideas which can survive under the light of rigorous intellectual scrutiny will be given the respect they deserve -- and those which fail the test will have their fraudulent underpinnings revealed for all to see.

How could MSNBC possibly have mistaken such a nobel endeavor for a true "hate site," of the sort which would merely function as an echo chamber for its authors' prejudices? Only by defining down "hate" itself until the word means anything -- or nothing -- until it is, to quote the omnipresent Instapundit, merely "a synonym for what certain people just disagree with."

Mr. Femia's cowardly backtracking is pathetic. Up until now, I've barely taken note of MSNBC's Weblog Central feature at all, and I will assuredly go out of my way to completely ignore it in the future. I do not even care to suggest that my own readers show their support for LGF by bombarding MSNBC with e-mail, as this whole sorry episode is just as likely a manufactured controversy, intended only to drum up traffic to this feeble excuse for a corporate blog-wannabe.

PatioPundit weighs in here.
BitchPundit weighs in here. (Fix your permalinks, dollink!)
Skippy weighs in here.
Misha weighs in here.
Tony Pierce weighs in here.
John Bono weighs in here.
Greatest Jeneration weighs in here.
Laurence Simon weighs in here.
Bill Herbert weighs in here.
Meryl Yourish weighs in here. (Oh, and scroll UP, too. It gets even better.)
261 (at this writing) readers of Little Green Footballs weigh in here.