Friday, March 25, 2011

Going Rogue

My background is in print journalism — not show business.

And I can only conclude that show business is what people like Sarah Palin really mean when they complain about a "liberal press."

That must be what she means. Her latest remarks were in response to comments made by Bill Maher. He's a comedian (like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert), not a journalist (like Walter Cronkite and Woodward and Bernstein).

Yes, Maher is bright and articulate, and he does engage in political commentary — but anyone can do that, especially today. If you have a computer and an internet account, you can write a blog on anything.

You don't have to have a college degree. You don't have to invest any money (beyond the cost of the computer and the internet account).

You don't really have to know what you're talking about. You don't even have to be able to spell, which, frankly, appalls me. I mean, you don't need to be able to spell if people are only going to hear your views, but if they are going to read them, I think you'd better be able to spell — yet far too few bloggers seem to be capable of that.

You really just need to have an opinion — and everybody's got one. At least one.

If you take a good, honest look at the blogs that are being written these days, you'll find that there's a good mix of opinions being represented out there. It may seem sometimes that things are tilted more one way than another, but, for the most part, I think it is pretty balanced.

It tends to get shrill at times — but I often think that is precisely because people who are accustomed to pushing emotional buttons (like, for example, comedians) are mistaken for people who prefer to deal with facts (like, for example, journalists).

In other words, any resemblance between Bill Maher and Edward R. Murrow is purely coincidental.

Perhaps Palin harbors resentment over the fact that more newspapers endorsed the Democratic ticket than the Republican ticket in 2008. But that was an historical anomaly. In nearly all of the presidential campaigns in the last half century, Republicans have received more endorsements than Democrats.

It may be a simple matter of semantics. When she says "press," Palin may mean anyone in the media.

But that is misleading because the word media is only part of the story.

The more appropriate terminology would be mass media (or mass communication) — media is far too generic.

Even so, mass media covers a wide spectrum of things. It covers all media technologies — both established and emerging.

It covers traditional publications, like newspapers, magazines and books, and it also covers newer technology, like television, radio, audio recordings, movies and the internet, as well as the related fields of advertising and public relations.

Mass media covers a whole range of specialized professions within those more general occupations. For example, newspapers have editors, and so do audio and visual production companies, but they don't edit the same things, and their skills wouldn't be particularly transferable to the other field.

When the Declaration of Independence was signed in the 18th century, press meant newspapers. But, today, it covers a lot of things — and, since people seem to be less inclined to get their news from newspapers these days and more inclined to get it from broadcast outlets — many of which, like the Fox News to which Palin contributes, clearly have an agenda — they tar all members of the media with the same broad, brush strokes, whether or not they apply.

It's easier to do that than think, I guess.

I can live with that misconception, though, easier than I can live with the insistence on labeling anyone who disagrees with Palin a "liberal." She isn't the first political conservative to do that, just the most prominent current one.

When did liberal become a dirty word? As nearly as I can tell, it goes back at least to the 1960s. The liberals of that time were primarily liberal on social issues but more conservative on foreign ones. Hence, when Lyndon Johnson and the established liberals of his day got the country into a war in Vietnam that couldn't be resolved quickly, it sparked resistance from what was called the "New Left."

As E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post wrote in "Why Americans Hate Politics" in 1991, "If liberal ideology began to crumble intellectually in the 1960s it did so in part because the New Left represented a highly articulate and able wrecking crew."

Conservatives were trying before the 1960s to portray liberals as soft and squishy — on communism, on crime, just weak in general — but it really seems to have caught on in the 1980s.

I admit, I leaned more to the left when I was younger. That was at a time when there was more mutual respect in our political discourse, and liberal wasn't treated with the same contempt as pedophile.

I'm much more of a centrist today, but not because of popular (if erroneous) definitions that are misapplied to ideological terms. I try to be respectful of everyone's opinion — and, if you read the things I have written about her in the 2½ years since Palin was chosen to be on the Republicans' national ticket, I think you will agree that I have often come to Palin's defense when I felt she was the victim of — as she correctly calls it — a double standard in American politics.

I don't agree with most of the things Palin says, but I have defended her when I felt she was treated unfairly.

She doesn't make it easy, though. She rejected support she received from the National Organization for Women (NOW) in this skirmish with Maher, presumably because it is a liberal group.

Philosophically, you would think that Maher and Palin would be natural allies, wouldn't you? I mean, Maher is a libertarian, not a liberal. If you know anything about American politics, you should know that the only things those two words really have in common are their first five letters — although there are such things as left libertarians and right libertarians.

The latter are usually considered the best–known form of libertarians, but the things all libertarians seem to have in common are their desires to see the influence of the government diminished and the freedom of the individual increased.

Libertarians tend to reject the labels of left or right, though. I guess if you press a libertarian for more details, he/she will say his/her label probably should be independent. Maher did openly support Barack Obama in 2008, which may be the real reason for his feud with Palin, but he also has not hesitated to criticize Obama since he took office.

As I say, liberal and libertarian sound similar so maybe that is what tugs at Palin's chain (although the apparently sexist slur that Maher used against Palin certainly deserves some credit).

Maybe she just doesn't know the difference between the two.

I guess that wouldn't surprise me.

After all, when you read the dictionary, you really have no choice but to conclude that rogue really doesn't mean what Palin seems to think it means — any more than liberal means what she apparently thinks it means.

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