Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Frogs and Tonsils 

A response we frequently get when folks find out we're moving to Canada is, "Oh, c'mon you'll be rid of Bush in 4 years no matter what happens." What I want to tell people who say this is, it's not Bush. Bush is not the problem, he's the symptom of a much larger problem, one that's frankly only getting worse. The problem is a society that takes as normal, to take the most recent example, a putatively serious newsmagazine putting on its cover a person who jokes about murdering journalists (for starters).

In an ideal society, people like Ann Coulter would not exist. Then again, in an ideal world, disease would not exist. But since we live in a world in which diseases do exist, we develop defenses against it. Our bodies learn to recognize that which preys upon it, and keeps it from gaining a toehold. In a normal environment, disease is a fact of life, but it's one we ignore at our peril. Ditto sick people. And in a normal, healthy society, people like Ann Coulter are pariahs. They exist, but they are are shunned. The virus they carry is thus confined to the margins.

I am recalling an old Bill Cosby routine, where the pediatrician explains to the young Cosby what tonisillitis is and why he has it. After patiently explaining the role of tonsils in trapping bacteria that might otherwise get into one's body, the doctor pauses for effect and then says, voice deepening, "...In your case, your tonsils have gone over to The Other Side..." What Time and Howie Kurtz's weekly circle jerk demonstrate is that our civic immune system--aka our press--has essentially gone over to the other side. And by the other side, I don't mean wingnuttia or even conservatism. I mean the side of not giving a shit. I mean an attitude that demonstrates on a daily basis an indifference to really the most basic expectations about what their job description is, married to a smug delusion that they are actually excelling at it. And it's when our civic institutions stop giving a shit that viruses like Ann Coulter multiply. And when viruses are allowed to multiply, nothing good comes out of it.

Last year when we were in Canada we caught what appeared to be a routine event on CBC television. Paul Martin sat for a half-hour, one-on-one interview with a single reporter, who proceeded to grill him in a semi-Socratic manner on issues ranging from gay marriage to missile defense to trade to the budget to separatism. Evasive answers were met with pointed followups; so were seemingly forthright answers. One could see Martin getting testy, but he had no choice but to answer the questions, which were good questions. There were no Jeff Gannons throwing him a lifeline, no Scott McClellans between him and his interlocutor. At the end of the half hour, the interview ended and on came the next show: another one-on-one interview between Paul Martin and a different interviewer... conducted entirely in French. My spouse and I nearly got verklempft. It was like stumbling on a living example of a bird species long thought extinct.

Canada's expectations about its press perhaps explains why, when a virus like Ann Coulter ventures into a society with a functioning immune system, she gets annihilated. Here, meanwhile, there is not an iota of evidence, as far as I can tell, that the press cares what Media Matters and the rest of the reality-based community think about its performance, let alone intends to improve. Quite the contrary. Using a different metaphor, Digby says he's feeling "frog-boiled". I"ve been feeling that way at least since 1998. And until the rest of the frogs snap out of it, I'm afraid the prudent thing to do is to get the hell out of the saucepan.

corrente SBL - New Location
~ Since April 2010 ~

~ Since 2003 ~

The Washington Chestnut
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