In the interest of time (I’m nearly a half century old and have fewer years ahead than I’ve already swallowed up), I do my best to avoid black holes: what I call “time-suck” stories that are so murky and slippery you can’t make heads or tails of them. These stories are often most attractive precisely because their messiness lets you make them into anything you want.
In the absence of grip, rage becomes the recipe, as media hacks like me become bombarded with shrill demands for coverage.
“WHY AREN’T YOU COVERING THIS STORY?!!!” is the usual refrain, often linked to stories that start loud and end in a fizzle (the Million Muslim March, anyone?). Sometimes we should cover them; other times they should be covered with a blanket and labeled “not worth it.”
You see this more in our Munchean era of the constant Scream, as the internet transforms into a chorus megaphone of endless complaint, directed at those the public wish to persuade.
It’s a legitimate activity — if you’re concerned, why not rally people to a neglected cause? Other times, though, it drags simpletons like me down a hole. A black hole. I avoid these holes if I cannot answer a simple question with a definitive yes:
“Do I add any clarity to this mess?”
If it’s no, or an “I don’t know,” I skedaddle. I don’t want to make things worse. I don’t want people to get hurt. I don’t want people to look at me and say, “Thanks for nothing, asshole.”
Some of my louder and even smarter pals might disagree, but the Bundy saga was a hole — one filled with quicksand that I had no interest in drowning in. So I avoided it. Others didn’t. I’m not as smart about land issues as some, but I know a swamp when I see it. The more I read about it, the less I understood. It’s like a Pynchon novel, only more entertaining.
But there’s something just as bad as these rage lasagnas, in my opinion, and it’s something you should also ignore. I refer to lectures from the media about “cozying up to extremists.”
Like the piece in the Washington Post by Dana Milbank, with a headline that says exactly that: “Bundy saga reveals the risk of cozying up to extremists.” Or another from the same paper by Kathleen Parker, that reads, “The GOP’s bad fling with Cliven Bundy.”
I totally get the importance of vetting any subject to avoid looking stupid. But I wonder, how many in the media offered this sage advice as most of their ilk (and their liberal cohorts in politics) gave repeated, slobbering wet kisses to the Occupy movement, which — after awhile — was reduced to a dwindling bundle of anti-Semitics, lurid felons, and fecal squatters? You’d think the OWS movement would have been relegated to the dustbin of ridicule, but instead glowing anthologies retell the story of the movement, minus the other “movements.”
Do the media ever level this warning about extremism when faced with the likes of Reverend Wright? Or Bill Ayers, who actually wanted to blow people up? What about Al Sharpton? Did anyone, beside the typical cranky right winger, ever tell our president, “Hey, maybe you shouldn’t really have this race-baiting charlatan at the White House?” I find Al’s outrage toward Don Sterling quaint. Say what you want about the gibbering Sterling, but he didn’t create horrible hoaxes that ruined lives or incite hate that found its way on the streets of New York.
Did the media wag their finger when the left found joy in chumps like Hugo Chavez, who ruined a country by employing methods the media always feels compelled to laud? With the exception of a few writers (like Michael Moynihan), you rarely heard a peep about his disastrous reign of poverty when Chavez croaked. We heard Jesse Jackson went to the funeral — something to do when there’s a murder of cameras waiting.
The fact is, extremism from the left side knows little ostracism, for it’s romanticized by it’s many fawning sympathizers. Whether it’s Che on a shirt, or a USSR propaganda poster in the kitchen of a press secretary — it’s just cool.
Movies are made on cop killers (repainting the murderer as a political prisoner; or a sexy poet radical), Redford recasts the Weather Underground movement as a “thriller” filled with emotional ambiguity, and Angela Davis’s fantastic hair graces the poster for the theatrical release on her own extreme past.
This extremism receives the opposite of shaming — you get empathy and accolades instead. Hate gets love when it drips from the left.
Which is why I have a real problem with media types educating me on indulging extremism now. Talk about cozying up to psychos? Look in the mirror, for God’s sake.
Bundy spoke old folk gibberish, no doubt, but maybe the New York Times could have released his quotes in their entirety, which added some complexity, or dare I say empathy, to this messy story. As he lauds Mexican families and speaks with sympathy of the Watts rioters, you see he wasn’t your run of the mill bigot. I doubt the Times would have chopped up an interview by Bill Ayers or Louis Farrakhan if the whole interview had made either appear more favorable than they deserve to be.
And so I must add a quote from an article by the gentle fellow Chris Hayes from The Nation, comparing the evils of coal to the evils of slavery. It reads: “Before the widespread use of fossil fuels, slaves were one of the main sources of energy (if not the main source) for societies stretching back millennia.”
I have no idea what he’s getting at, and perhaps I’m taking it out of context. But if the gist of the article is that coal is evil — but before it, the primary source of energy was slavery — that’s not exactly a winning argument to make against using coal. In fact, it seems like he said “coal helped end slavery.”
It just goes to show you that even young white nerds have a problem with words; not just old white coots.
The lesson is simple: the media never learns a lesson. They will touch the stove, numb to the burn, for their profession often requires amnesia. You can’t fall in love with OWS if you know, from a historical perspective, where this love leads. And you can’t root for violent confrontation if you know it’s going to lead to, well, violent confrontation.
Celebrating subversion without viable alternatives (the nature of most subversion), requires forgetting what suffering is like.
So, dear hypocrites in the media: indulge in your gloat over Bundy, but when you’re done, please remember your own lectures on extremism, when no doubt there will be new movements, groups, and individuals — radical and violent — that will tickle the progressive ideals of the press. As they did with the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers and OWS, facts will be obscured by fantasy, villains become legends, and suffering becomes a footnote.
The right has some bad guys. The left has some bad guys too. But the ones on the left are more beloved by those who report on them — which makes them deadlier from where I’m slouching.
And it helps to fork out the money too, as Donald Sterling’s life as a well known but tolerated asshole can attest. Bigots walk, but money talks.