These are interesting times in this country. I have been watching a lot of television lately (something I haven’t done in a while), usually the frontline of the many ideas competing to take hold in the national mind. Today’s issue is about language use, and rhetoric, in politics. Fox News had just juxtaposed the video of President Obama talking in February about civility in political discourse with the video of Labour Leader Jimmy Hoffa calling the Tea Party activists “sons of bitches” though not directly.
President Obama had made the remark at the memorial for the dead at Tuscon, Arizona, calling for people to tone down the heat in their talk and bring civility back to public discourse. However, now after such a pummeling by an unrelenting army of conservative activists in his own political career, he seems to have now been tacitly endorsing a retaliatory verbal retort by his own army of union workers. Sean Hannity, on his All-American show this evening, stacked the set with a group of people who believed that the president needs to step up and censure his own people. What is not being verbalized is that if that is not done, the Conservative right will return to do the same and won’t listen to any entreaties.
What I find mostly interesting about it all is the spin that confronts the viewer depending on which television station they watch. I had been watching Fox News, the mouthpiece of the conservative movement (as contrasted – by their own words – to the mainstream media*). When I am watching MSNBC, I get a different perspective. I grew up in Nigeria watching CNN so I had a pretty “mainstream” access to the American news world. There was Larry King, Wolf Blitzer and a host of others. Watching Fox News today is like watching a different country. It finally dawned on me that there are many Americas, and each of them has a different window on the world which they often defend to the exclusion of others.
In his exclusive interview with Vice President Cheney yesterday where he did all he could – sometimes superfluously – to make the former Bush Administration powerful man discredit the current administration, Sean Hannity played a clip of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and then asks the Vice President whether he was offended by Colin Powell referring to him as Mr. Cheney rather than Vice President Cheney. When the latter said “no”, Sean Hannity seemed surprised. The irony of the situation, of course, was that for many more times than the former Vice President in the same interview, Sean Hannity referred to the current president as “Barack Obama” or “Obama” and the current Vice President as “Joe Biden”, but the ex-President as President Bush without a hint of self-awareness.
So here is what I see: that the ideological underlining of these media enterprises makes it hard for them (and thus their viewers) to admit a simple universal truth whenever it favours an opposing ideology. Ed Schultz of MSNBC needlessly puts a racial slant on Rick Perry’s “black cloud of debt” speech while Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh – no matter how much it comes out of the mouth of even their own favourite interview subjects – would never agree that the current administration ever did anything right. It’s strange that each of them believes that their viewpoint represents what America really is. On the one hand, some viewers are able to see this spin. On the other hand, there are many more who views the world and the country only through these narrow media viewpoints.
On the bright side, it will always give people like Jon Stewart something to amuse us about, and people like me something to write about on an idle evening.
*PS: By what standard exactly is Fox News not part of the mainstream media, with their record of consistent high ratings for many years. I never quite understood that part of their usual talking points.