Limbaugh, Breitbart, and Incivility
Public Tuning Out Incivility
Good manners are “keepers of the peace,” according to a lengthy article in The Christian Science Monitor, and many Americans have “tuned out politics” because they are tired of incivility in that highly combative arena of public life.
Is Limbaugh Paying More?
Such incivility was on display last week when conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called a Georgetown University law student a “slut” after she testified about contraception at a congressional hearing. Limbaugh has since been pilloried by pundits on the left and right, and numerous businesses have announced that they would no longer advertise on his radio show. On Saturday, Limbaugh issued a qualified apology, but it failed to satisfy most critics.
At The Daily Beast, Kirsten Powers joined the chorus of condemnation, but also wondered where the left’s outrage is for the misogynistic outbursts of progressive pundits Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, Bill Maher, Matt Taibbi, and Ed Schultz.
Powers said Schultz described former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin as a “bimbo” and called Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut,” while Keith Olbermann “has said that conservative commentator S.E. Cupp should have been aborted by her parents” and Michelle Malkin is a “mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick.” Matthews has referred to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as a “she-devil,” “Nurse Ratched,” “Madame Defarge,” “witchy,” “anti-male,” and “uppity,” according to Powers, and Maher has called Palin a c-nt, among other insults.
“Many feminist blogs now document attacks on women on the left and the right … but when it comes to high-profile campaigns to hold these men accountable—such as that waged against Limbaugh—the real fury seems reserved only for conservatives,” said Powers.
Debating Breitbart’s Legacy
The debate about which political bent produces the most incivility extends to notorius conservative publisher Andrew Breitbart, who died suddenly March 1 at the age of 43. While some liberals, like Arianna Huffington, offered public praise for the man who orchestrated successful media attacks against Acorn, Shirley Sherrod, and former congressman Anthony Weiner, others, like Slate’s Matt Yglesias reveled in his death.
Today, at The Root, Joel Dreyfuss said there’s been too much public praise for Breitbart.
“Avoiding speaking ill of the dead is not a reason to remain mute about an evil legacy,” said Dreyfuss. “Breitbart was an agent provocateur who lied and cheated and distorted the facts to support his right-wing political agenda. He was largely responsible for destroying ACORN, an organization that worked for decades on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised. He nearly ruined the reputation of Shirley Sherrod, who had a distinguished civil rights record. Before he died, Breitbart was promising to expose unsavory information about President Obama’s college days.”
But, conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat compared the legacy of Breitbart with that of respected and respectful social scientist John Q. Wilson, who also died last week.
“Wilson thrived … in precisely the kind of media-intellectual ecosystem — institutionalist, high-middlebrow, genteel — that Breitbart spent his career putting to the torch. Whether Breitbart was working for Matt Drudge or Arianna Huffington or building his own empire, his first loyalty was always to the sensational scoop, the wild-and-crazy stunt, the overcaffeinated public feud with whichever enemy happened to be hating on him. … He was a P. T. Barnum figure, at once lovable and deplorable, who embodied the online media landscape like no other figure on the right or left,” said Douthat.
“It’s easy to see the shift from Wilson’s old-media conversation to Breitbart’s new-media circus … as a straightforward story of cultural decline,” Douthat said, but he concluded that American journalism in the Internet age represents a return to form and said “a republic that survived the excesses of William Randolph Hearst can presumably survive the excesses of HuffPo and BigGovernment.com.”
Manners Empower People
It may survive, but is the republic made better or worse by incivility?
“Manners empower people to demonstrate respect for others, to avoid inflicting the unintentional insult, to defuse the kind of confusion that leads to conflict and violence. The mannerly know how to make good apologies when they mess up, as they inevitably will. And – as with the well-placed snub – they know how to deviate from convention as a means of voicing their concerns. Observers say manners and civility, in fact, form the core of an ethical life, one lived first with respect for others,” the Christian Science Monitor article said, and I agree.
What do you think?
Is incivility destroying public discourse and damaging the republic?