Have you been watching these "Free Speech" segments on the new Couric-ized CBS Evening News? The basic idea is that CBS will turn over a bit of nationally-telecast airtime to basically anyone who wants to get on a soapbox about anything. Like a lot of Network News' attempts at remaining relevant, thus far I'd say they've been a great idea poorly realized. Most of the "big" moments have come from well-knowns like Rush Limbaugh, and what's the point of that? I can hear what Limbaugh or any famous person has to say anytime I want... he has HIS OWN SHOW.
I want to hear from people I'd otherwise never hear from, I want ordinary folks speaking their mind. And I have only two "requirements" for them to be considered successful at doing so. ONE: Be entertaining. Perform. You're on TV. TWO: Be incredibly insightful or batshit crazy. No middle ground. One or the other. Ho-hum folksy reasonability is bad TV. I either want to see Yoda give me the secrets of existance in the form of a simple limerick or I want a guy in a foil hat whipping out a pie-chart that proves Paul Wolfowitz is secretly a member of the Green Lantern Corps.
The other night, CBS finally got it right. They invited on the father of a Columbine Massacre victim to give his take on the phenomenon of school shootings in the wake of the recent tragedy at an Amish school in Pennsylvania. Gawker, via YouTube, here provides the clip in case you missed it:
Summary of charges: The removal of school prayer and creationism and broader-societal permissiveness regarding suicide and abortion have made America morally weak, and evolutionary theory being taught in schools is particularly to blame because it replaces absolute right and wrong with kill or be killed.
Let's put aside for a moment what you think about this man's opinions (you already know what I think.) I want to ask the politically-minded in my readership, liberal, conservative or otherwise, to consider a few things.
Back over the summer, Ann Coulter caught some (largely deserved) flak over a portion of her latest book involving the concept of victims being re-cast as experts. As is usually the case with Coulter, her argument was a kernel of genuine logic framed in hyperbolic attack-journalism tones. The basic point was that, in Coulter's view, "the left" (her words, not mine) was responsible for ruining honest public debate by frequently re-branding the sufferers of various tragedies as experts on the larger cause of said tragedies; with the goal being to render one's opponent unable to respond for fear of seeming callous toward a victim.
The most obvious embodiment of this concept, to Coulter and her ilk, was Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war activist who's son was killed in Iraq and who subsequently embarked on a series of speaking engagements. The argument here, which I find unfortunately (given the sources) difficult to completely disagree with, is that Sheehan's loss, however tragic, does not immediately annoint her any kind of expert on war or the geo-politics thereof. To put it another way, living through Katrina didn't grant anyone a degree in climateology.
The flaw in Coulter's logic (in ALL of Coulter's logic, really) is that she ascribes the notion of propping up victims (or victims propping themselves up) as experts with their victimhood as sole qualification exclusively to the "left," and the above clip/link clearly indicates that this is as much a "red" problem as it is a "blue" one. I'm not here to give the gentleman from the CBS clip a hard time, just asking people to consider the broader implications at play here: What this man had to say, honest opinion or not, is just the standard boilerplate of the religious "right" for the last few decades or so; but coming from this particular person it's going to resonate much more strongly with many more people than it otherwise would've because, the currency of modern media culture his victimhood is meant to imbue him with the instant weight and gravitas of expertise.
Viewed now in the context of a "both sides" problem, is "expertise by way of victimhood" out of hand? Does it hurt the decorum of honest debate? Are we becoming a nation of "Oprah" guests, where feelings and emotion hold greater currency than reason and facts?