Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Dynamic of Extreme Conservative Rhetoric

This New York Observer interview with Ann Coulter is being heavily blogged (sample), but I think there is an important point that's being missed here.

If you follow the link, you'll see that the reporter adopts the old trick of shutting up and letting the subject natter; this is a classic of journalistic craft, as most people (and especially most people in public life) like talking about themselves. Not just that, the main reason why people of power or influence consent to speak to you is because you'll print what they say. So saying nothing is often effective.

It's also a tactic that appeals to essentially moderate reporters faced with radical (in any direction) interviewees; rather than engaging with their beliefs, let them gabble into your notebook. With any luck they will say something newsworthy, or better yet, embarrassing. But I wonder whether it is appropriate to the times?

The downside of it, of course, is that whatever they say gets rebroadcast; for example, look at this:
Jimmy Carter got the whole thing started, Bill Clinton let it build, build, build, build, build. He wouldn't deal with it, because he had no credibility on deploying the military. He was a pot smoking draft dodger, and so when he was presented with credible evidence that this or that country was behind a terrorist attack, he’d just have to look the other way: “No, don't let me hear that. Call in Monica!”
The expected reaction on the part of the reporter is "God almighty - they believe this stuff?" or perhaps "The poor woman - is she all right?" All of which assume there is a sufficient infrastructure of public reason to let this stuff go through to the wicketkeeper; it's essentially a sort of condescending assumption that The Crazies are safely marginalised.

Surely everyone knows that Jimmy Carter "got the whole thing started" in that he sent arms to Afghanistan in order to defeat the Soviet Union, and that Bill Clinton deployed the US military to Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti and Kosovo? Or that his response to the al-Qa'ida mid-90s campaign was to bombard targets in Sudan and Afghanistan? That it's still the case that no-one has come as close to killing Osama bin Laden than when the cruise missiles of Operation INFINITE REACH landed on his camp, half an hour after he left it?

But here's the rub; if you don't rebut, or better refute, this kind of crap, it just floats through into the public water supply. And once there's enough crap out there, everyone gets a bit. I really wonder to what extent US hard-right ranting is intended to elicit this response.


hardindr said...

Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler has been making this point for the past 8-9 years, but liberals/progressives in America just won't listen. It's pretty sad.

Anonymous said...

Clearly, it's better to be a cocaine-sniffing draft dodger. Then you have no qualms about planning a wrong-headed campaign to bomb the wrong country...

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