Page Two: Fact-Free Follies
More fun from the wacky world of right-wing zealots
As a public figure working in almost any part of the media, you discover that many if not most consumers of the medium often prefer to take you as one-dimensional – elaborately one-dimensional, granted, but still flat and lacking depth. Now, in many ways, the very nature of public media encourages this view; the ideal media presence is someone who is easily accessible and not too complex. The less ambiguity, the more cut-and-dried the figures, the easier it is to love or hate them. Without substance or complexity, these media figures basically become symbols to their audiences, serving to represent the best (the good) or personify the worst (the bad).
The lack of depth usually is not accompanied by anything approaching a proportional lack of expanse. Ideological, political, religious, and social beliefs are attached to the still one-dimensional media figures, often stretching them into distorted shapes, pushing them far, wide, and flat. This is because there is little attention or respect given to them for their thoughtfulness or study. Crucial to the relationship is that the mass audience gets to believe the media figures they like agree with them on everything; the ones they don't like are not only passionately wrong on almost every issue, but their reasoning is corrupt, crudely idealistic, and just plain dumb. It doesn't even matter if these media figures have never addressed these topics in any way; their audience still knows where they stand.
When a media figure is admired, he or she just becomes more and more admirable. When the figure is a despised villain, the drive is not for reasonable treatment but to demonize, to question not ideas but motives, not to look for compromise but to attack personally. Undermining opponents' arguments by belittling them and their beliefs means you don't ever really have to address ideas. Ann Coulter, during the recent flare-up of the controversy over the death penalty, wrote, "For decades, liberals tried persuading Americans to abolish the death penalty, using their usual argument: hysterical sobbing." Essentially a near-meaningless observation, to Coulter's audience it not only is funny but out of hand dismisses the complexity of the subject by mocking opponents.
Even better is to assign casually outrageous beliefs to a person you want to demean without even knowing what their beliefs really are. Jordan Smith's recent article on Rick Perry and the death penalty (see "Perry the Executioner," Sept. 16) got a large number of responses, most of which were quite interesting. Some were more ideologically loaded than others. One post reads: "Jordan Smith. I would like to remind you that your hero and hero of the poor, Ernesto Che Guevara, also executed hundreds of people point blank with a shot to the head and personally logged and enjoyed every one of them! The only difference is that this great hero Che executed people just because they were against the 'Revolution' and I guess that was a major crime. Viva Che!"
Now where did that come from, and what is its point? It would be ridiculous to address it seriously by refuting the bizarrely out of place comparison, as well as completely inappropriate to talk about Smith's beliefs. Most likely this was written because one of the many current hard-right trends on radio and TV is to point out what an iconographic figure Guevara has become among the young and then offer a revisionist history that finds he was more murderer than revolutionary, one who covered himself by conveniently espoused ideology. Rather than reaching for a grand observation, the comment uses one of the many current right-wing talking points in an attack on leftist thought.
Think about the positions the writer is taking. Smith can't criticize the death penalty because Che killed people? This argues that everyone is required to know, understand, and vet every thought and activity of those they admire when those people make any kind of political, ethical, or ideological statement – even if there is no reference to said person in the statement. Or something like that. But of course it's really not arguing that; it is designed to assault and demean liberal thought, not to address ideas.
I'm regularly asked about a four-year-old YouTube clip, "Alex Jones vs. Louis Black." It is a filmed clip from his radio show, posted by Jones, where he whips himself up into a frenzy as he denounces me.
"I just walked down the hall to get a cup of coffee, and what did I see? Louis Black – that's a fake name by the way." Holding up the Chronicle with the "Journey of a Gun" cover (Oct. 5, 2007), he goes on: "And what's it got? A giant cover story about how we need to attack the Second Amendment, a bunch of anti-gun garbage I just scanned through in the last few minutes, the establishment's instinct to totally disarm us so they have their way with us." Then Jones asks why I don't write articles on some of the stories he regularly espouses. But really, he's only just begun. "Why don't you tell the truth instead of writing articles saying the toll road company isn't foreign?" he asks. "How dumb do you think your readers are?" And then he blasts off in outraged-Jones mode: "I'm just sick of lies. I'm sick of it. And I'm sick of you being mesmerized by things that don't matter so they can run these lies on you."
Where to begin? This was Jones at his most brilliant during a debate because: 1) I wasn't in the studio, 2) I hadn't written the story in question (Jordan Smith had), 3) Jones had no idea what I thought about gun control but denounced me anyway, and 4) because Alex Jones does not have opinions but knows the truth, most things that appear on his websites or that he says faithfully represent his philosophy. I, on the other hand, own no truths. I have only opinions, and Chronicle writers are frequently in disagreement with me, as well as with other writers.
There is no quarter here, even given as controversial a topic as gun control. This is not a matter of principled disagreement between citizens of this republic. No, it is the always truth-teller (just ask him) waging his endless campaigns against all who disagree with him: It's not that they are wrong or stupid; it is that they are intentionally evil.
It is no wonder that Jones so vehemently insists on the resurrection and redemption of former Sen. Joe McCarthy. They both find that a great way to hit levels of near-spitting vitriol is to make phony accusations. He accuses me of writing articles that declare that the toll road company isn't foreign. If he can find a single example of such, well, then I'll apologize.
Finally, quite offhandedly he asserts, "Louis Black – a fake name by the way." Huh?