Thursday, May 26, 2011
Quote of the Day
"You guys have this all wrong... Everything you’re doing is anticipating that they’re somewhere having a meeting which is like, ‘What if (Glenn) Beck says something that embarrasses us?’ That’s an NBC meeting. They have eight guys in suits in a conference room, and you’re playing this like an NBC meeting. Now, let me tell you what a Fox meeting is: A Fox meeting is, ‘Boy, he’s really emotional. Now he’s tearing up. What if he gets really emotional and doesn’t do the show and we don’t get the ratings, what are we going to do?’"
-- Former Fox News Executive David Rhodes, in a piece on Roger Ailes in New York Magazine
Why is this bit of wisdom so pertinent at the moment? Because, predictably, Ed Schultz has been suspended by MSNBC for comments he made about Laura Ingraham on his radio show; for the blissfully unaware, he called her a "right-wing slut."
I've already said that Schultz is a blithering buffoon -- and was one long before this most recent unbelievably lunk-headed fuck-up -- so I'm not going to bother retreading that. But in the comment section of yesterday's Schultz post, I brought up something that's really worth keeping in mind as this little controversy unfolds -- namely that you would never see the apologizing, hand-wringing, self-flagellating, or, maybe most importantly, disciplinary action being taken by the other side of the equation were the roles reversed. If Laura Ingraham -- a painfully by-the-numbers right-wing hack if ever there was one -- had somehow leveled an equally offensive insult at Ed Schultz, not only would she never in a million years say she was sorry, it would be business-as-usual from the schoolyard bullies who act as her enablers: Fox News, conservative talk radio and a thousand hyper-right-wing internet outlets. The reason, of course: not simply because the far-right media are incapable of shame, which they are, but because they also believe that there's no threshold that, once crossed, constitutes an offense to which they need to respond in a responsible manner. They simply don't think that it's possible to go too far -- and that's the definition of being irresponsible.
Quite a while back I wrote a piece that asked a question that's really worth considering in the age of the Fox News ethos: What do you do when an editorial outlet or broadcaster refuses to behave responsibly? We've come to a truly unprecedented moment in the evolution of the American media. Throughout history, those who practiced journalism and offered commentary in this country were, for the most part, responsible adults who understood the awesome sway they held over the public's imagination. They adhered to a gentleman's agreement that was largely unspoken because it didn't have to be spoken: You don't just go on the air or off to press spouting completely ridiculous, incendiary crap without the slightest concern for the facts or for the potential consequences of your claims. You weren't running Fisher-Price's "My First Television Network"; the airwaves and print outlets weren't your own personal sandbox where you were king and could say whatever you pleased. Yes, you had the Constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech, but you knew full well that with that came responsibility -- and since you were a grown-up and not some asshole narcissist obsessed with the sound of his own voice and drunk on authority, you for the most part behaved accordingly.
Read through the not one but two pieces currently dissecting the mind of Roger Ailes, however -- one in the above-mentioned New York Magazine, the other in Rolling Stone -- and you realize that the Fox News chairman inherited plenty of nasty traits from his former employer, Richard Nixon. He's paranoid, power-hungry and, most of all, thoroughly unwilling to admit when one of his people fucks up royally and to bring down the wrath of God on his or her head. Attack a Fox News personality for anything and the entire network circles the wagons and responds by lashing out publicly at the source of the perceived threat; in some ways this is an admirable trait, since a lot of other outlets are far too willing to instinctively throw their people under the bus at the first sign of ugly press, but it creates a culture where no one is ever told that they need to apologize to anyone outside the building for anything. Once again, no matter what -- no one can go too far. Nothing is ever over the line or out-of-bounds.
And since Fox News is the 15-mile-wide, Independence Day mothership from which all the other city-destroying saucers spread down -- so powerful that it sets the tone for all other conservative media -- that twisted philosophy permeates each outlet and every pundit on the right these days. MSNBC has always been hamstrung by its NBC network parentage and that company's adherence -- at least in theory -- to a certain standard of conduct and practice. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, since it means that -- once again, in theory -- NBC will at the very least posture in the direction of doing the responsible thing when, say, one of its people decides to, say, call a woman a slut on his nationally syndicated radio show. As David Rhodes flat-out stated -- NBC has the ability to be embarrassed and to take action against those who work between its four walls whom it believes has shamed its good name. Fox operates under no such inhibition.
So who wins in the end? Well, at the moment -- Fox.
Who loses? Ed Schultz, although deservedly so. Oh, and all of us.