Driving home this evening I tuned in to Dan Barreiro’s show on KFAN. The FAN is a sports station, but Barreiro’s show is more general interest with a regular dose of politics. The political discussions usually aren’t the tedious regurgitations of talking points because Dan, while reflexively liberal, also has a fine sense for where some of those sacred cows get turned into hamburger in the real world. The fact that he regularly gets blasted by liberal and conservative e-mailers for being too much of the other suggests a certain tolerable and precarious balance (though I usually tune to another station whenever Pat Kessler joins the show).
I don’t know what they were talking about exactly before I got in the car tonight, but it had something to do with the media. Jim Walsh, an editor and Dan’s former colleague at the Strib called in to bemoan how everybody today just likes to get their news from people who think the same as they do and no one appreciates truly unbiased reporting such as the Strib provides. (See – the Barriero show can be funny, too!). Actually, I think Walsh makes the mistake of believing most people really think like he thinks — an assumption fostered by the fact that for a number of years people didn’t have any choice. Maybe “most”, as in a majority, do think like he does, but there are plenty who don’t and they have many viable alternatives. This goes a long way in explaining the decline in circulation and credibility of many mainstream newspapers.
I grant that most news reporters don’t consciously set out to write a news story in a particular way (and many stories can and should be reported without a slant), but he also needs to acknowledge that an institutional bias creeps in in terms of what stories get reported and where they are displayed. To read the editorial pages (where opinion is the point) of the Strib over the years is to know exactly where the editorial board falls on the political spectrum; it is disingenuous on his part to think that those attitudes won’t seep in to some extent on how the news is presented and the headlines presented.
I find it ironic that the mainstream media that once pandered to (if it wasn’t outright leading) the “question authority-don’t trust anyone over 30, especially the government” zeitgeist one generation ago now finds it’s own credibility being questioned. I will agree with Walsh, however, that the discourse has become harsher now that there are opposing viewpoints. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, even if it does become wearisome at times. The reaction, however, is at least as ill-considered as some of the rants from either side: political correctness and the concept that certain constituencies must not be offended has created “no-go” zones not unlike those in Britain where non-Muslims dare not venture. There are some discussions or issues that just can’t be talked about safely, usually dealing with race or religion (or both).
The boundaries here are “defended” by the mutually assured destruction mentality of a previous Cold War where the ranks of the professionally offended stand ready to rain down fire at the lightest touch on the tripwire.
For example, another topic on the Barriero show this evening was the foofaraw (I prefer this to the over-used kerfuffle) over Kelly Tilghman’s “lynching” remark about Tiger Woods. The latest twist on the story (aside from Tilghman’s twisting in the wind) is Jim Brown being angry that Tiger Woods isn’t angry. It’s almost as if anything less than loosing Die Walküre at the slightest mis-step will somehow signal a weakening of our country’s resolve to confront the injustices of racism.
To my thinking, Woods’ response does just the opposite — it suggests that maybe our society has matured to the point that it can tell what a real offense is and can deal with inadvertent or ill-advised slips with calm and toleration. To me (admittedly unburdened by generations of persecution), Tilghman’s comments to the effect that the only chance the younger players on the PGA Tour had to deal with Tiger’s dominance was to “lynch him in a back alley,” were a crude (in more ways than one) attempt at humor but without a racist intent. It was along the lines of her saying, perhaps, that they break his kneecaps, or perhaps have him fitted for concrete golf shoes. Perhaps knee-cappers and gangsters would have been offended by the reference but it wouldn’t have resulted in Tilghman being suspended. I think Woods’ mellow forgiveness of the clumsy remark shows not a lack of identification with the awful history endured by blacks but a self-possession and awareness that says, “I know what racism looks like, and believe me, that isn’t it.”
Should anyone ever (and most inadvisedly) express a hateful and ignorant attitude toward Woods’ race or family I have no doubt that his response would be direct and withering — with no consideration of (and even less affect) on his shoe sales. Perceived slights are like Gatorade to him (just ask Rory Sabbatini or Stephen Ames); Lord knows what Tiger would do if someone really made him angry.