Shock jock Don Imus – ousted from TV and radio for a racist and sexist remark – is coming back. Conservative pundit Ann Coulter – who has been criticized for anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic rants – never left.
For years, America’s public conversation has become increasingly harsh, polarized, and full of what satirist Stephen Colbert famously coined “truthiness” – the preoccupation with a “gut belief,” regardless of the facts of a situation.
Now, some experts suggest that the level of the nation’s discourse has sunk to a new low, and there’s a growing push-back from both the grass roots as well as some in the media – a demand for a more civilized way of conversing publicly.
“We’re caught right now between extreme forms of political correctness on one end of the speech spectrum and crude, hateful incivility on the other,” says Roy Peter Clark, a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla. “The solutions are familiar: We need moderation – thoughtful behavior and expression. But we also need better editing and to create communities with certain expectations that you will be responsible.”
The reaction to Ms. Coulter’s latest remarks – that the nation would be better if Jews converted and became “perfected” as Christians – spurred a rash of indignant editorials, as well as debate about whether it would be best to simply ignore her and deprive her of the controversy she thrives on.
Her remarks have also cost her vital support in the conservative community. Initially, Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly had Coulter on his show and told her: “I don’t even care, to tell you the truth” about her comments. Three days later, conservative commentator Bernard Goldberg called Mr. O’Reilly to task on O’Reilly’s own show, accusing him of doing “a kissy-poo” interview with Coulter. O’Reilly eventually called her comments “just dumb.”
The conservative media watchdog group Accuracy in Media (AIM) has also made efforts to distance itself from Coulter, calling her the “Britney Spears of the right” last March.
But some media analysts are skeptical that such public reproaches will make much difference – in part, because of the way the media world has changed over the past 20 years.
“The impetus for everyone, whether it be TV programmers or advertisers, is that you have to make a lot of more noise to get people’s attention,” says Ken Auletta, media critic of The New Yorker. “And part of having more noise is having more controversy.”
What often gets lost in this shout environment is the media’s traditional role as an arbiter or moderator in the public square. “What we have now is this crazy formula that says, ‘On the one hand, on the other hand’: Too often the press plays it as a ping-pong match,” says Mr. Auletta. “Part of our job is to adjudicate the truth, too.”
In this highly polarized political environment, where both the right and left are quick to attack journalists that attempt to adjudicate the truth, many news organizations have begun to shy away from such a role, he says. But reviving it, Auletta says, could be an important solution to the disintegrating nature of public discourse: “There’s no substitute for good, tough-minded journalism,” he says.
So, kids, let’s recap. We need more moderation and less incivility if we are going to replace confrontation with conversation.
……. so shut the fuck up, Ann Coulter, you hateful, nasty, unfunny, homophobic, anti-everyone-not-a-WASP, anorexic skank!!!!!