According to Merriam-Webster, I’m anal….
When I was a mere schoolboy I thought one of the coolest things that I ever learned was the difference between a words “connotation” and it’s “denotation” (if I’m losing you here because you don’t know the difference, maybe you better go play with something shiny until I make a blowjob reference or something, ‘kay?). Anyway, with this knowledge tucked away, it used to really irk (yes, irk) me when someone in school would start off an essay or debate with “Merriam-Webster defines sodomy as ………” (usually another word was involved, but I’m trying to keepthis interesting…). So there I sat in full irk-mode. Yeah. Yeah.We know what the friggin’ word means, get to the point and we’ll see if we agree. All of which brings me to:
The debate over Al Gore’s comments on the conservative press demonstrates some of the worst pathologies of American political debate
SpinSanity’s Ben Fritz goes to great lengths to somehow to balance the attacks on Al Gore with a simple statement that Al Gore makes about the RNC manipulation of the media. In Ben’s world, the blame appears to be equal, but only if Ben puts his subjective thumb on the scale. Here is what Gore said:
The media is kind of weird these days on politics, and there are some major institutional voices that are, truthfully speaking, part and parcel of the Republican Party. Fox News Network, The Washington Times, Rush Limbaugh-there’s a bunch of them, and some of them are financed by wealthy ultra-conservative billionaires who make political deals with Republican administrations and the rest of the media … Most of the media [has] been slow to recognize the pervasive impact of this fifth column in their ranks-that is, day after day, injecting the daily Republican talking points into the definition of what’s objective as stated by the news media as a whole… (My emphasis)
Something will start at the Republican National Committee, inside the building, and it will explode the next day on the right-wing talk-show network and on Fox News and in the newspapers that play this game, The Washington Times and the others. And then they’ll create a little echo chamber, and pretty soon they’ll start baiting the mainstream media for allegedly ignoring the story they’ve pushed into the zeitgeist. And then pretty soon the mainstream media goes out and disingenuously takes a so-called objective sampling, and lo and behold, these RNC talking points are woven into the fabric of the zeitgeist.
Fritz then goes on to point out that there is a kernel of truth in what Gore says, and cites some of the more egregious examples. Then comes this:
Instead of engaging Gore on substance, though, many pundits instead launched irresponsible attacks. Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer half-jokingly accused Gore of mental illness, saying, “I’m a psychiatrist. I don’t usually practice on camera. But this is the edge of looniness, this idea that there’s a vast conspiracy, it sits in a building, it emanates, it has these tentacles, is really at the edge. He could use a little help.
On the Fox News Channel’s “Special Report,” Weekly Standard Executive Editor Fred Barnes made a similar charge, trying to link Gore’s statement with actual conspiracy theories: “This is nutty. This is along the lines with you know, President Bush killed Paul Wellstone, and the White House knew before 9/11 that the attacks were going to happen. This is — I mean, this is conspiratorial stuff.”
In the Lewiston [Idaho] Morning Tribune, Michael Costello took this point to an outrageous extreme, stating, “About the only thing that distinguishes Al Gore’s rant from those once heard from the skinheads who formerly haunted Richard Butler’s Aryan Nations compound is that he did not claim that the conspirators were Jews. Does Al believe that the marching orders that this new right-wing media follows arrive on black helicopters?”
Speaking about Gore on his show last week, meanwhile, radio host Rush Limbaugh suggested that the former Vice President’s accusations may prove that he suffers from mental illness. “It could just be he’s nuts,” Limbaugh stated. “Tipper Gore’s issue is what? Mental health. Right? It could be a closer to home issue than we know.”
“edge of looniness”…”This is nutty”…”this is conspiratorial stuff”…”About the only thing that distinguishes Al Gore’s rant from those once heard from the skinheads”…It could just be he’s nuts,” Limbaugh stated. “Tipper Gore’s issue is what? Mental health. Right? It could be a closer to home issue than we know.”
But then Fritz plunges on:
The critics who focused only on Gore’s supposed conspiracy mongering or mental health not only ignored the validity of his point, but also missed what was truly over the line in Gore’s interview: his comparison of the conservative media with a “fifth column.”
Then, here it comes:
Merriam-Webster Online defines fifth column as “a group of secret sympathizers or supporters of an enemy that engage in espionage or sabotage within defense lines or national borders.” ……Engaging in partisan journalism is most certainly not the same as working to sabotage one’s nation, however, regardless of the context.
In the end, Gore’s use of the term “fifth column” is inflammatory and indefensible, and the pundits who dismissed the substance of his comments in favor of accusations of alleged conspiracies and mental illness have made matters worse. Once again, a real issue has been sidetracked and the discourse lowered by rhetorical cheap shots
Sigh. Let’s go back to Gore’s “money quote”, as Sully might call it:
Most of the media [has] been slow to recognize the pervasive impact of this fifth column in their ranks-that is, day after day, injecting the daily Republican talking points into the definition of what’s objective as stated by the news media as a whole
One would have to be incredibly dense to not understand what Gore was saying. It should come as no surprise to even SpinSanity that the RNC sends out blast-faxes of talking points to Fox, Fred Barnes, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Medved, George Will, NewsMax, Sean Hannity, etc. The DNC also do it with sympathetic journalists. Do they really believe that these people all use the same phrases within 24 hours of each other because the political zeitgeist is so overwhelming? Gore stated a fact. There is co-ordination by the parties to dictate the days talking points for the media. No, the conservative media doesn’t meet in some dank backwater and plot against the country for the benefit of a few (that’s Dick Cheney’s job…). But there is a concerted and coordinated effort to make sure that they are on the same page when it comes to the president’s message of the day.
To misinterpret what Gore said about media manipulation and then equate it with pundits who go on the air to say he is “nuts” is not only ludicrous, it’s dishonest. To fall back on the literal definition of â€œfifth columnâ€ to make the point is worse. Itâ€™s shoddy and obtuse.