Friday, July 10, 2009

Stop Shouting.

Roger Ebert's article "The O'Reilly Procedure" struck a chord with me this morning. It's at the heart of what bothers me about politics and debate in our world today. Ebert writes:

"What are TV shouters telling their viewers? They use such anger in expressing their opinions. Who are they trying to convince? They're preaching to the choir. Their viewers already agree with them. No minds are going to be changed. Why are they so mad? In a sense they're saying: You're right, but you're not right ENOUGH! I'm angrier about this than you are! Viewers may get the notion that there's unfinished business to be done, and it's up to them to do it.

How can one effect change? By sincere debate and friendly persuasion? O'Reilly sets the opposite example. He brings on guests who represent the "enemy," doesn't seriously engage their beliefs, and shouts:
Be quiet! I'm right and you're wrong! I stand for good and you stand for evil! I'm not exaggerating. Sometimes those are the very words he uses."

Ebert specifically targets Bill O'Reilly's methods in his article but also demonstrates how O'Reilly is not alone in his ways of dealing with those who would disagree with his stance. Now, I realize that not everyone agrees with MY political views. And I'm okay with that. Our country grants us each the freedoms to entertain different views. What I'm not okay with is the bitterness, vitriol, cruelty and name calling that tends to go hand in hand with those "different views," televised or otherwise. Ebert's article addresses this issue.

Another slice of Ebert's words:
"There is little comfort to be had from today's polarized shouters. They are discontented, and they think you should be, too. They inspire fear and suspicion. There is a conspiracy, and you are the target. Dark forces are at work. There was a time when ordinary Americans would have been deeply offended by the way O'Reilly speaks about their President--any President."

Also within the article are a number of video clips and some research findings. A team of media researchers at Indiana University studied every editorial broadcast by O'Reilly during a six-month period and Ebert reprints some of their work. They analyzed O'Reilly's editorials for propaganda devices which include:

* Name calling -- giving something a bad label to make the audience reject it without examining the evidence;
* Glittering generalities -- the opposite of name calling;
* Card stacking -- the selective use of facts and half-truths;
* Bandwagon -- appeals to the desire, common to most of us, to follow the crowd;
* Plain folks -- an attempt to convince an audience that they, and their ideas, are "of the people";
* Transfer -- carries over the authority, sanction and prestige of something we respect or dispute to something the speaker would want us to accept; and
* Testimonials -- involving a respected (or disrespected) person endorsing or rejecting an idea or person.

I find this whole piece fascinating on many levels. The recognition of propaganda in what passes for news many days. The acknowledgement that many people are now better informed as to the goings on of Britney Spears than our position with North Korea. The regret that authorities like the New York Times are diminishing in readership. And mostly I like the Roger Ebert seems to get what I am bothered by in humanity in general... that lack of respect for another's view.

Check out the full article here.

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