Tag Archives: Civility

That’s A Clown Question, Bro

I spent the better part of 20 years being the primary spokesman for a large company, BFGoodrich. During that time, I had the opportunity to work with some exceptional journalists who were knowledgeable, ethical and fair. And I had the misfortune to work with some who couldn’t find their asses with both hands in the dark.

Every time I received a call from someone in that latter group I had to strap on the blood pressure cuff and bite my tongue. Nothing to be gained by stating the obvious: You’re an asshat. But it did cross my mind.

So I read with interest the retort of Washington Nationals outfield Bryce Harper to a question posed by a scribbler in Toronto. Here’s the backstory, from Yahoo sports:

Bryce Harper‘s comebacks look ready for the big leagues, too.

The 19-year-old Washington Nationals outfielder quipped ”That’s a clown question, bro” to a Toronto TV reporter who asked if he planned to take advantage of Canada’s lower drinking age after belting a long home run in a win over the Blue Jays.

For a brief time, the highest trending topic on Twitter was Harper’s response: ”That’s a clown question, bro.” The outfielder’s name was also among the site’s most popular subjects.

Sweet. Wonder if Harper has ever taken any formal training courses in news media relations? Probably no need.

Anyway, what got me thinking about this was a story that made its way out of the Rose Garden last week when Prez O was essentially heckled by a reporter as he was announcing a change in immigration policy. Here’s from the NYT:

As Mr. Obama was making a statement from the Rose Garden about a new immigration policy on Friday afternoon, a reporter from The Daily Caller, a conservative news Web site, repeatedly raised his voice and tried to interrupt. The reporter, Neil Munro, tried to ask whether the policy — intended to help young illegal immigrants get work — was good for legal American workers.

“Excuse me, sir,” Mr. Obama said when Mr. Munro initially spoke up. He put his hand in the air and raised a finger, as if to say “wait.”

“It’s not time for questions, sir,” Mr. Obama continued. “Not while I’m speaking.”

A few minutes later, Mr. Obama referenced the incident by saying, “And the answer to your question, sir, and the next time I’d prefer you let me finish my statements before you ask that question, is this is the right thing to do for the American people.”

Mr. Munro then apparently interrupted again.

“I didn’t ask for an argument, I’m answering your question,” Mr. Obama said.

OK. One of the failings of journalism these days is that the mainstream media — especially those reporters based inside the power alleys of DC and New York — are more lapdogs for those in power than watchdogs for the public. So by all means, ask some tough questions.

But hey. Let’s have a little civility. The President reading a statement in the Rose Garden is not the same as when the British Prime Minister stands in the well at the House of Commons. Sheesh.

But the Prez could have shut Munro up and won the 24/7 news cycle just by replying:

“That’s a clown question, bro.”


Running and Life Lessons

OK. I’ll admit it. I didn’t know that today is celebrated as National Running Day. And it didn’t appear that the Talking Heads on CNN and Fox News had much interest in heralding the day. As I chased the treadmill belt this early a.m., I couldn’t escape the chatter about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker surviving (CNN’s view of the world) or winning a great victory (Fox News) in the state’s recall election yesterday. [Big waste of time and money. IMO]

I should have run outside, hitting the concrete on what really was another glorious morning here in NE Ohio.

And then I could have concentrated on a story that teaches some valuable lessons way beyond the political intrigue and posturing in Wisconsin, Inside the Beltway and elsewhere these days.

At a track meet in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday one runner stopped and helped another make it to the finish line. Here’s from The Daily Mail:

A high school runner competing in the 3200-metre race is receiving national attention, not for winning or a feat of athleticism, but for an extraordinary act of kindness after she helped a struggling competitor finish the race.

Meghan Vogel, a 17-year-old junior at West Liberty Salem High School in western Ohio, is now being praised for her sportsmanship, and has had to deal with an overwhelming response to the now-famous photograph.

She said she appreciates the accolades but said today that she is a bit overwhelmed by the praise that has been pouring in since Saturday’s track meet in Columbus.

The 17-year-old was in last place in the 3,200-meter run as she caught up to Arlington High School sophomore Arden McMath, whose body was giving out.Instead of zipping past Ms McMath to avoid the last-place finish, Ms Vogel draped the runner’s arm around her shoulders, half-dragging and half-carrying her about 30 metres to the finish line.

Wow. In an era when pro football teams are trying to figure out how to most effectively maim opponents–and when our elected leaders are interested primarily only in their own reelection–stopping to help someone seems almost quaint.

Wonder what made Megan do it?

“It’s an honour and very humbling,” Ms Vogel told the Associated Press in a telephone interview from her West Liberty home. ‘I just thought I was doing the right thing, and I think others would have done the same.’

Not a bad life lesson.

Rush, Women and Civility

When Rush Limbaugh called the Georgetown University law student, Sandra Fluke, a “slut” and “prostitute,” he gave pajama-clad citizen journalists everywhere a content gift that keeps on giving. He also sparked an important debate that has now been joined by conservative women and other commentators. Why do we view it as acceptable when liberal pundits and so-called humorists attack and degrade conservative women?

I stepped in this intellectual doo-doo a year ago while attending a dinner Inside the Beltway. I had the temerity to ask why liberals — especially liberal women — believe that all conservative women are stupid. Unfortunately, almost everyone attending was a liberal women — so the spirit of the ensuing conversation and comments had for me the appeal of undergoing an impromptu colonoscopy.

So I’m delighted now that a number of prominent conservatives — and conservative women — are rallying to put the spotlight on this double standard.

Here’s Michele Bachmann (Mediaite: “Overkill Reaction To Limbaugh’s Remarks, But Zero Outrage When I Was Attacked“):

Following the media outrage over Rush Limbaugh‘s provocative remarks, Michele Bachmanntook to CNN make an argument we’ve heard from some others already: that the media doesn’t express the same disgust when the woman being attacked is conservative. When violent statements were made about her, she said, there was no response.

On a Starting Point segment, Soledad O’Brien brought up Bachmann’s comment to Piers Morgan about the lack of reaction to threats made against her. Bachmann, recounting her “personal experience,” said: “I couldn’t repeat on television what has been said about me. A judge recently ordered Twitter to identify a man who called for me to be not only raped and sodomized but also killed.”

It’s a serious matter, she added, but there “was zero outrage about the statements on the left, absolutely zero.” Highlighting the contrast, Bachmann said it’s just wrong to “see the overkill that’s being done against Rush Limbaugh” when her attacks went unnoticed. She emphatically stated: “To me, it doesn’t matter whether a woman is a Republican or Democrat, or whether she’s liberal or conservative. This sort of violent talk should not be acceptable for anyone.”

From Michelle Malkin (“New Video: She PAC strikes back at misogynist Bill Maher“):

A little scene-setting for you before I bring you this brand spanking — emphasis on the spanking — new video from my friends at ShePAC.

As I noted earlier this morning, I discussed the miscreant Bill Maher and called him what he was: An invertebrate (and yes, I meant “invertebrate,” not “inveterate” — though both would do) coward.

I also said that countless conservative women out there are fed up and pushing back.

ShePAC, which supports principled conservative women in public office, has just released a video exposing the depths of Maher’s misogyny. The ladies’ hands are probably red from the beatdown they’ve just administered.

I call this damning clip “Speaking Truth to Coward.”

And Greta Van Susteren (Mediaite: “Van Susteren Calls For Radio & TV Correspondents Dinner Boycott, Dubs Headliner Louis C.K. A ‘Pig‘”:

On the heels of this morning’s blog post taking Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod to task for promoting a double standard by visiting “serial pig” Bill Maher’s show, On The Record anchor Greta Van Susteren is calling on her colleagues to boycott the Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner because of the event’s headliner, comedian Louis C.K.

In a Greta Wire post posted this evening, Van Susteren explains why she’s refusing to attend this year’s dinner — and why she believes others should follow her example:

The headliner of this year’s Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner is “comedian” Louis C.K. Comedian? I don’t think so. Pig? yes.

He uses filthy language about women…..yes, the C word…and yes, even to describe a woman candidate for Vice President of the United States. It isn’t just Governor Palin he denigrates. He denigrates all women and looks to the crowd to laugh.

I refuse to show any support for this guy or for the Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner Committee who hired him. I think the organization that hired him is just as bad as he is. It is no secret that he denigrates women.

She offers examples of C.K.’s rants against former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, including jokes at the expense of her special-needs child, Trig. You may recall that, in her earlier post, Van Susteren directly addressed the argument that comedians should be held to a different level of accountability based on the nature of their profession by noting that “being a comedian is not license to be a bigot or degrade women.”

C.K., like Maher, has an extremely loyal (and, if my Facebook friends are any indication, very vocal) fanbase, so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of response and discussion Van Susteren’s post inspires, both in terms of the ongoing debate about how men in the media can or should talk about women, as well as about the nature of comedy and role played by comedians in our national discourse.

“I hope all the other women and men in the media join me in not going,” Van Susteren concludes. “I also hope everyone has the courage to stand up to this.”

OK. What we need is a return to civility — and respect for women (and men, too) in public and private life regardless of their views on issues. To paraphrase Van Susteren, you would think that everyone would have the courage to stand up and support that.


Gabrielle Giffords: Something To Cheer About

I believe that most people, like this pajama-clad citizen journalist, are pretty fed up with what takes place Inside the Beltway, as our elected officials spin the facts, posture for re-election and take to name-calling when the nation’s best interest is at stake. When it comes to legislation these days we are watching how sausage is made.

But in the midst of the deficit debacle, there was something to cheer about in the House last night. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords made a surprise visit to cast her vote in favor of the legislation.

What a remarkable story. Giffords survived an assassination attempt last January when she was engaged in representative democracy — meeting with her constituents in Arizona — and she now appears to have beaten the odds and is on the road to recovery. No matter how cynical you are about government and politicians, she stands as an example of what is good with this country and those who enter public service.

Here’s from the NYT, “Giffords Returns, as Does Unity, Briefly“:

With two minutes to go and roughly 20 votes needed to pass a bill to raise the nation’s debt limit, a smattering of applause rippled from a corner of the House chamber. After a few seconds of confusion, a flash of teal jacket could be seen almost floating among a sea of Democrats.

There she was, Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, appearing unexpectedly Monday evening to cast one of the last votes needed to send the measure over the top.

The full chamber erupted in loud applause as Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House whip, flicked his eyes from the vote board to Ms. Giffords. It was the first time she had been in the chamber since she was critically injured in an assassination attempt in January in Tucson.

As Ms. Giffords walked tentatively to her seat, accepting embraces and kisses from Democrats and Republicans both, the long and bitterly partisan spectacle that has engulfed the nation seemed to melt quietly away. In its place was a vital blink of hope that ideological  intransigence — something Ms. Giffords had little patience for as a lawmaker — had faded in a Capitol that seemed to be careering toward dysfunction.

“The Capitol looks beautiful tonight,” Ms. Giffords posted in a message on Twitter, “and I am honored to be at work tonight.”

Something for all of us to cheer about.

Sarah Palin, Ed Schultz and Civility

I made the mistake a few months ago during a dinner Inside the Beltway of asking why liberal women believe so strongly that conservative women are stupid? That question generated some polite smiles but no real answers. Still, since most at the dinner were liberal women (and men) the question went over like a fart in church.

I thought about that yesterday while chasing the treadmill and watching accounts of the Ed Schultz implosion. Schultz, a liberal Talking Head, called Laura Ingraham, a conservative Talking Head, a “right-wing slut.” Ouch.

Schultz later apologized and received one week in the cable TV penalty box from MSNBC.  And Ingraham didn’t appear to get her shorts in that big a knot over the description.

But what would have happened if a conservative gasbag made the same comment about a liberal woman? Just to make it interesting, let’s say Michelle Obama.

Here’s an interesting story by Noel Sheppard on News Busters, “Ingraham:If Conservative Called Liberal Woman What Schultz Called Me He’d Be Fired“:

One of the startlingly inconvenient truths about America is the double standard by which conservative women can be treated by the media compared to their liberal sisters.


In America, liberal women and liberal minorities are a protected class. A conservative deigns to say anything derogatory about them even in jest does so at his or her peril.

But conservative women and minorities can be ridiculed with almost total impunity.

Consider what the left has done to Sarah Palin since the moment she was named as John McCain’s running mate in August 2008. There’s no chance a liberal woman would have been treated this way.

Quite the contrary, if Palin was a Democrat governor named as Barack Obama’s running mate, she would have been put on a pedestal by the same folks that mercilessly ridiculed her including Charlie Gibson, Katie Couric, and Tina Fey.

Condoleezza Rice is another example of a conservative woman who would be exceedingly revered and esteemed by America’s media if she was a liberal. Since she’s not, it’s completely acceptable for her to be trashed by all comers.

As further evidence of the double standard, consider that in 2007, radio’s Don Imus made a joke about a group of black, female, college basketball players that most of the nation likely never heard of. Within days, he was fired.

Four years later, a liberal radio host made a highly derogatory slur about a conservative woman – not in a joking fashion, mind you, but quite seriously – and he got suspended for a week while the ladies of ABC’s “The View” joked about how his offense was really nothing to take too seriously.

This certainly wouldn’t have been the case if Ingraham was a liberal.

Tough to imagine this double standard exists in the year 2011, isn’t it?

Well, no. Not really, especially since cable TV and shows like The View encourage and thrive on a total lack of civility.

Anyway, I guess I wasn’t all that stupid for asking that question of my dinner companions Inside the Beltway.

As we move toward the 2012 race for the White House, Michele Bachmann is expected to run and she should do well in the early primaries in Iowa and elsewhere.

And Sarah Palin is signaling that she may get into the race as well. She’s going to spend part of her Memorial Day weekend hitting the road on a national bus tour. First stop: New Hampshire.

The knock on both Palin and Bachmann from liberals, of course, is that they’re stupid.

We’ll see.

Enjoy the holiday weekend.

Civility: Here Comes Health Care

Well, the road to the Super Bowl goes, as usual, through Pittsburgh. Gee. Some things almost never change.

And we’ll see this week when members of Congress get back in the game whether anything has changed. In the wake of the massacre — and for Gabrielle Giffords, now miracle — in Tucson, and Obama’s perfectly toned and heartfelt remarks at the memorial service, can we expect a more civil, thoughtful and transparent debate on important issues both Inside the Beltway and out?

Here’s from the NYT article:

As the House prepares to resume regular legislative business on Tuesday, the shooting in Arizona that killed six in a failed assassination attempt on Representative Gabrielle Giffords has shifted the political dynamic in Washington and across the nation, with lawmakers embracing a new civility.

No one is suggesting that the fierce policy disagreements will disappear or that old animosities will not remain just beneath the new, courteous veneer. But lawmakers said they expected a leveling of the discourse on even the most divisive issues, like cutting spending, whether to raise the federal debt limit and the Republican measure to repeal the Democrats’ health care overhaul, which the House is set to vote on this week.

“I think the tenor on anything that happens in the House is going to be a little different,” Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the No. 3 House Republican, told reporters at a Republican retreat that ended on Saturday in Baltimore.

Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, said there was no retreat from a policy standpoint. “I think you’ll see a more civil debate than you would have had otherwise,” Mr. Flake said on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “I’m not sure the substance of the debate will change that much.”

We’ll see. And this week will provide a good test to see if any lessons were actually learned from our latest national teachable moment. Let’s hope so. There really are some big, important fish to fry: health care, government spending, education and unemployment among them.

David Brooks, in his NYT Op-Ed, “Tree of Failure” isn’t all that optimistic that a new wave of civility will lift the Congress or the nation:

President Obama gave a wonderful speech in Tucson on Wednesday night. He didn’t try to explain the rampage that occurred there. Instead, he used the occasion as a national Sabbath — as a chance to step out of the torrent of events and reflect. He did it with an uplifting spirit. He not only expressed the country’s sense of loss but also celebrated the lives of the victims and the possibility for renewal.

Of course, even a great speech won’t usher in a period of civility. Speeches about civility will be taken to heart most by those people whose good character renders them unnecessary. Meanwhile, those who are inclined to intellectual thuggery and partisan one-sidedness will temporarily resolve to do better but then slip back to old habits the next time their pride feels threatened.

Civility is a tree with deep roots, and without the roots, it can’t last. So what are those roots? They are failure, sin, weakness and ignorance.

We’ll see. But I hope John McCain has it right in his opinion piece in WaPo, “After the shootings, Obama reminds the nation of the golden rule.” Here’s an excerpt:

We Americans have different opinions on how best to serve that noble purpose. We need not pretend otherwise or be timid in our advocacy of the means we believe will achieve it. But we should be mindful as we argue about our differences that so much more unites than divides us. We should also note that our differences, when compared with those in many, if not most, other countries, are smaller than we sometimes imagine them to be.

I disagree with many of the president’s policies, but I believe he is a patriot sincerely intent on using his time in office to advance our country’s cause. I reject accusations that his policies and beliefs make him unworthy to lead America or opposed to its founding ideals. And I reject accusations that Americans who vigorously oppose his policies are less intelligent, compassionate or just than those who support them.

Our political discourse should be more civil than it currently is, and we all, myself included, bear some responsibility for it not being so. It probably asks too much of human nature to expect any of us to be restrained at all times by persistent modesty and empathy from committing rhetorical excesses that exaggerate our differences and ignore our similarities. But I do not think it is beyond our ability and virtue to refrain from substituting character assassination for spirited and respectful debate.

Spirited and respectful debate.

We’ll see.

Tucson Tragedy: Time To “Tone It Down”?

Hard for me to move off this story right now: The attempted assassination of a member of Congress, the murder and wounding  of some innocent bystanders, the heroism of others, and a really sick individual who wins if we let his actions reduce our freedoms.

And I’m not convinced that political rhetoric — by those on the right or left — leads to violence. Although there is plenty of debate on that point. Does hateful or in-your-face speech contribute to a decline in the civility necessary to govern or to conduct our daily lives in most other areas? Yes. Does it cause a sorry fuck with a weapon of mass destruction to open fire in a parking lot on a Saturday morning? Not sure.

And c’mon. The photo released yesterday of the shooting suspect, Jared Loughner, makes him look like someone who would stick his dick into an electric pencil sharpener just for the buzz. So who know?

Yet while we are sorting this all out, maybe Roger Ailes is right. Let’s “tone it down.” Here’s from an article on Mediaite, “Fox News CEO Roger Ailes: I’ve Told All Our Guys, Shut Up, Tone It Down“:

Fox News CEO Roger Ailes says he put the word out at Fox to “tone it down” and make arguments “intellectually” with less heated rhetoric. “You don’t have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that.”

But Ailes draws the line at any suggestion the passion of Fox News hosts had anything to do with the shooting spree in Arizona that left six dead and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded: “That is just bullsh–,” he told Russell Simmons in an interview posted to the music mogul’s website Global Grind. “Both sides are wrong,” said Ailes:

“They knew about this guy (Jared Lee Loughner). The education system knew about this guy…they kicked him out of school and told him until he gets a letter saying he’s not going to kill anybody, he can’t come back to school. The police department picked him up five times and let him go and nobody screened him for getting a weapon…So, by the time he decided to go to a mall and and wanting to kill somebody, he was attached to nobody. He was a flag burner. He just was not attached to the Tea Party.
It’s just a bullsh– way to use the death of a little girl to get Fox News in an argument.”

We’re never going to end disagreements in this country about significant legislative, policy or social issues. Nor should we. Open, vigorous debate is a hallmark of our free society — and it’s part of our heritage. And part of that is the ability to talk to our elected officials — and have access to them.

Yet it’s time to “tone it down.”

Here’s from an article on NPR by Corey Dade, “Shooting Fallout: Political Rhetoric Takes The Heat“:

“Hopefully this gives the nation pause, and we can temper down the vitriol toward politicians,” Rep. John Larson (D-CT) told reporters outside his home Saturday night. In a news conference Sunday, Larson said Democratic and Republican lawmakers this week will discuss taking new safety precautions, such as requesting a local police presence when they make official appearances in their districts.

In the Senate last year, the number of significant threats directed at members increased to 49 from 29 in 2009, according to the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms.

An April 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center found “a perfect storm of conditions” contributing to Americans’ distrust of government, including “a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan-based backlash and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials.”

President Obama is heading to Arizona Wednesday for a memorial service, and what he says and does is important — and not just symbolically. As Mara Liasson writes on NPR — “Consoler-In-Chief: Tough Role In Partisan Times” — “many Americans look to the president for reassurance in times of tragedy.”

Many Americans look to the president for reassurance in times of tragedy. At these times, he is the “consoler in chief.” Ronald Reagan, for example, performed this role beautifully in his speech honoring the astronauts who died when the space shuttle Challenger blew up in 1986.

“We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, and slipped the surly bonds of Earth, to touch the face of God,” he said.

George W. Bush had an impromptu but affective moment as he shouted through a bullhorn on top of a pile of rubble at the World Trade Center site in September 2001: “I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

President George W. Bush speaks to rescue workers, firefighters and police officers from the rubble of Ground Zero on Sept. 14, 2001, in New York City.
Getty Images 

President George W. Bush speaks to rescue workers, firefighters and police officers from the rubble of Ground Zero on Sept. 14, 2001, in New York City.

Reagan spoke after a terrible accident; Bush after coordinated terrorist attacks. But in 1995, President Bill Clinton faced a situation more similar to the one Obama faces today: an attack on federal employees at the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City.

“Let us let our own children know that we will stand against the forces of fear,” he said at the memorial service for the Oklahoma City bombing victims. “When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. In the face of death, let us honor life.”

We’ll see what happens in the days and months that follow.

But we need to “tone it down.”

And with all that has been said — and all the finger pointing — in the last few days following the shootings, I’m struck with one story. It’s an interview I saw on CNN and elsewhere with the the parents of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, the young girl born on 9/11 and killed outside a Safeway store while trying to learn more about our government by meeting her representative.

[Interview is on CNN — go to Most Popular — “Parents Remember Shooting Victim.”]

For the families of those who were killed and wounded — and for the many others who are struggling to figure out how and why this happened without looking for political gain or benefit — let’s tone it down.