Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Most Everything That's Wrong With American Journalism

In one handy, dandy e-mail exchange. I particularly love this:
Patrick Enright, Senior Articles Editor
Yeah, maybe the distinction depends too on whom you're attacking — if it's the people you think wronged you (like the IRS), you're a protester/separatist/etc., and if it's indiscriminate killing of clearly innocent people, you're a terrorist.
Because those two things are mutually exclusive. And, this from Devin Gordon:
Fundamentally, I'm with Dan: a Texan white guy named Joe Stack isn't as interesting / enraging / anxiety-inducing as a Nigerian Muslim named Abdulmutallab. I'm also with Eve: Stack's philosophy, unlike Abdulmutallab's, is pretty kosher with many — maybe even most — Americans. We're basically with him right up to the burn-down-your-house-and-fly-a-plane-into-a-building part of the story. Other than that part, right on, Joe Stack! (Heck, newly minted Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown all but said as much in a very clumsy TV appearance about this story the day after it happened.)

But I'm most intrigued by a couple of things Mike suggested. First, that Abdulmutallab's actions fit into a much larger terrorism narrative that has stretched out for years, resulted in ongoing wars and decided presidential elections. Isolated, Underpants Man's actions are surely milder than Stack's — it still amazes me that a man flying a plane into a building doesn't make us flinch much more — but Stack's actions are just that: isolated.

The most galling thing about the whole back-and-forth is their total and complete abdication of any role or place in this discussion at all. It's all completely passive and separate from their lives. Just a nice, little platonic discourse on the concept of "terrorist." At no point do they seem to recognize that they're journalists and they actually have some influence on the narrative or even have some choice in what words they use. Like here, again, Devin Gordon (who doesn't exactly cover himself with glory here):
We've been having a discussion over here about the aversion so far to calling the Austin Tax Wacko a terrorist-or as the Wall St Journal called him "the tax protester." And I'm wondering if anyone has read yet - or would tackle themselves — a thorough comparison between our ho-hum reaction to a guy who successfully crashed a plane into a government building versus the media's full-throated insanity over the underpants bomber, who didn't hurt anyone but himself.
Um. Aren't you the media? Don't you have some role in the ho-hum reaction vs. the "full-throated insanity"? But it seems like most of their energy went into coming up with clever nicknames for these guys.

The other thing that bothers me about it is the total lack of empathy or understanding for anyone involved in this situation at all. Joe Stack was an angry, disturbed person who did an unspeakable act and killed another human being. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is an alienated young man who attempted to do unspeakable acts and thankfully failed. These actions had real-world consequences for a lot of people. Our country's response to these acts will have far-reaching consequences. It's not just a game of semantics to be played by comfy journalists. It would be nice to know that the jounalists understood that.

H/T Glenn Greenwald via Atrios. Also, via RVCBard, an interesting, related thread.

UPDATE: And, as per usual, Ta-Nehisi Coates nails it and then some. RTWT.

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