Posted on | February 19, 2012 | 91 Comments
“Television, naturally enough, is biased toward compelling visual imagery, and in almost all cases the charms of a human face take precedence over the capabilities of a human voice. It is not essential that a TV newsreader grasp the meaning of what is being reported . . . What is essential is that the viewers like looking at their faces. To put it bluntly, as far as TV is concerned, in the United States there is not one sixty-year-old woman capable of being a newsreader. Viewers, it would appear, are not captivated by their faces. It is the teller, and not what is told, that matters here.”
— Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood (1994)
“As for my own personal feelings, who cares? While I’m often accused of unfairly hurting other people’s feelings, no one ever seems to care about my feelings. I’ve long ceased to expect anything except insults from anyone, and those expectations are seldom disappointed.”
— Robert Stacy McCain, Aug. 29, 2011
When the draft of the e-mail passed the 3,000-word mark, and was still clearly not half-finished, I gave it up. What had begun as a mea culpa had metamorphosed into a treatise explaining the entire history of my engagement with conservative New Media, and what the past 15 years had taught me about the apportionment of status, prestige and influence within the universe of political communication.
But why should I burden anyone with all that? Ed Morrissey has neither time to read such a thing, nor any interest in discovering why I view things the way I view them. It would have been an arrogant imposition to foist upon him that document — which surely would have neared 10,000 words if completed — with any expectation that he would actually enjoy reading it, or that the anecdotes and observations might inspire him to exclaim, “Oh, now I understand!”
So never mind all that crap, and I’ll just apologize.
My part in what has been dubbed “ThighGate” was rude to Tina Korbe, and my analysis of the personnel policies of Salem Communications was, at the very least, uncharitable.
It is a known fact that women in public life — and most especially, attractive conservative women — are exposed to a level of scrutiny that few people would wish for themselves. Any woman who enters the online world in a public way is routinely subjected to peculiar types of stalking, harassment and/or defamation by strangers, and therefore deserves sympathy and support from her friends.
Melissa Clouthier and I had a long talk the other day, and she defended her generic criticisms of young ladies’ dress and decorum at CPAC, even while criticizing me for having called unwanted attention to Tina Korbe by name. (Melissa’s criticisms were not — repeat, not — directed at Miss Korbe, whose decorum is beyond reproach, whatever one might say in regard to the length of a particular skirt.)
Melissa was furthermore concerned, and somewhat agitated that I was not concerned, about how this unfortunate episode would augment my already notorious reputation. Was I not aware that I was regarded as an irresponsible loose cannon? Was I not also aware that there were horrible rumors about me?
OK, I said: What have you heard? Melissa cited one specific horror story (evidently dating back to the NY-23 campaign in 2009) which was ridiculously false, and I asked why — if she was my friend — she hadn’t told me about this gossip when she first heard it?
Don’t Believe That Lying Mud Shark!
This is one of those things that has always puzzled me about human nature: Gossip, for some people, is a valuable commodity, which they hoard up and distribute strategically in order to enhance their own status. Such people are always careful, before divulging some especially defamatory tale, to pledge their listener to absolute secrecy: “You can’t tell anyone where you heard this.”
Sometimes, the oath of secrecy is even more devious: “You can’t tell this to anyone, because I’m the only one who knows it, and if it ever gets out, they’ll know who told it.”
The object of such methods, of course, is to secure the trust of the listener by making them a participant in the conspiracy of silence. This conspiracy protects the gossip-monger from having to confront the person they have defamed, or to defend the accuracy of their tale. And most of all, the teller of gossip is never compelled to answer the key question: What benefit do you hope to derive from this act of character assassination?
How my discussion with Melissa is relevant to the “ThighGate” situation probably needs no elaboration, IYKWIMAITYD.
Enjoying a reputation as The Wild Man of the Right-Wing Blogosphere, I understand that some people might naturally extrapolate my notoriety in every imaginable direction, and if it suits their fancy to imagine that my travels on the campaign-trail rival in their unspeakable decadence the most infamous escapades of Led Zeppelin on tour . . .
Oh, yes, it’s all true.
Including the mud shark.
My point is that, having rather deliberately courted such notoriety, and having played the role of a reckless Id-monster to my advantage, I’m hardly in a position to complain when confronted with the other side of that double-edged sword: Many people are prepared to believe the worst about me, so that I’m rather like the dreadful cad who was “not received by any respectable family in Charleston” due to an incident alleged to have happened during a buggy-ride years earlier.
C’est la vie.
Between the Myth and the Reality
Once a conservative journalist has been denounced as a “white supremacist” (!) and labeled a sort of one-man hate group, his future prospects of career advancement might seem less than promising. And I can think of more than one young conservative I have advised in this regard. As a valuable mentor once put it to me, “Don’t give them a stick to beat you with.”
There are some arguments in which merely being right will not suffice, because Platonic “noble lies” require that some discordant facts be overlooked. Unless you are wise and scrupulous, your efforts to debunk the popular mythos will only result in your ostracism and the diminution of your influence. Therefore, choose your targets wisely and make your arguments carefully. Those who defend the popular side of an argument are granted extraordinary license in their selection of facts, while those on the less popular side have no such luxury.
The problem for anyone who has been targeted for destruction in that kind of situation is how to fight back, and there was a moment — in 2006, to be precise — when I instinctively realized that the best way to fight back was simply to be myself.
Whereas I had been labeled an advocate of “hate,” in fact hate was contrary to my deepest beliefs. If I was forbidden by divine commandment to hate my enemies — indeed, I was enjoined to pray for my enemies — how could anyone possibly suspect that I hated entire races of people I’d never even met, and who had never done me any harm? Granting that such a misperception was possible, and that I bore some responsibility for that, it was still a gross mischaracterization of my intentions. No one who knows me well thinks of me that way.
Who am I? A natural-born joker, a happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care free spirit, a bon vivant, a raconteur, the original back-slapping how-ya-doin’ Good Time Charlie.
In my attempt to advance within the buttoned-down uptight world of the Official Conservative Movement, I had tried to conform to the expectations of others, to suppress my mischievous nature. Not only did the strain of that effort damned near drive me nuts, it spectacularly failed to gain me the sort of “respectability” that one is supposed to acquire by Playing the Beltway Game.
Therefore I decided, that day in 2006, that it made more sense to be myself, because being myself is a lot more fun than trying to imitate somebody else’s idea of what is “respectable.”
Damn those bastards all to hell. I’d served my time, I’d done my duty, and if they didn’t like me as me, why should I kowtow and tug the forelock, hoping to be accepted as an imitation of them?
So I started having fun, and they’ve never forgiven me for it.
My disdain for “image maintenance and reputation enhancement” is perhaps in some sense ironic, but since coming to D.C. in 1997, I have too often been on the receiving end of ill treatment at the hands of those who seek to enhance their own reputations by putting other people down. I could sleep easy at night if it weren’t for all these knives in my back, and there are good reasons why I have sometimes made public the things that a lot of people only mutter under their breath.
Somebody has to say this stuff out loud or else the poisoned wounds will fester with potentially fatal consequences.
The Non-Hypothetical Question
Resentment over how Hot Air went about hiring a third blogger was quite widespread within the blogosphere, and my irritation at what I called the “cynical charade” involved the knowledge that some of my friends had applied for the position in sincere hope that they might be hired — hopes I attempted to discourage, based upon knowledge earned by long years of experience.
Some of the inferences and implications of my discussion were unfounded or mistaken. Connecting this to Melissa’s “CPAC dress code” post, and then using Tina Korbe’s name in a non-hypothetical question — yeah, that was stupid and offensive, and I apologize for my stupidity and offensiveness. Mea culpa.
Perhaps part of the problem, beyond my own faults and failures, is that some people were under the mistaken impression that the virtual environment of New Media would permit them to transcend whatever real-life disadvantages had hitherto impeded their ambitions. And so when they bumped up against certain unfortunate realities, they needed scapegoats for their own frustrations.
How many times have I been scapegoated? Lots.
The skinny extrovert is generally despised by the shy endomorph, and if I am conscious of having suffered from such undeserved contempt — it’s not my fault I’m this way — wouldn’t it be equally wrong for me to hate the young and beautiful, just because I’m old and ugly?
Believe it or not, I strive to avoid that kind of superficiality in judging people’s true worth. Beauty I praise as such, but I try to get past the “halo effect” whereby we sometimes impute moral virtue to people merely because they are good-looking. (Mitt Romney is handsome, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he would be a better president than less handsome men, although he would be arguably more “electable” on that account.) By the same token, I also try to resist the opposite temptation of thinking that good-looking people owe all their advantages to their looks, to mentally categorize every pretty girl as an airheaded bimbo, et cetera. How much of the hatred directed toward Ann Coulter takes the form of such derogation? About as much as the hatred toward Rush Limbaugh takes the form of deriding him as a fat white guy.
There is no winning that game, you see: If a less-than-aesthetically perfect person becomes famous, they are mocked for their visible shortcomings, but if a good-looking person becomes famous, they are alleged to be skating by on account of their looks.
As the man who gave expression to Rule 5 (“Everybody Loves a Pretty Girl”), it is important for me to stipulate that I was describing the Way Things Are, rather than arguing on behalf of a utopian ideal about How Things Should Be. (If you don’t know what’s wrong with utopianism, please read Ameritopia by the middle-aged bald white guy, Mark Levin.)
Jerry Wilson’s remark about “the sweet young thing,” however unseemly, was merely a request for some kind of honesty.
“It is what it is,” as Rush likes to say.
Of Doormats and Footprints
There are limits to what any of us can do about the Way of the World. Nobody likes to be judged, especially those of us who are quite judgmental ourselves. Everybody has the right to form their own opinions, including negative opinions about me. Everyone is naturally more conscious of their own injuries, and apt to overlook the injuries suffered by others, including those injuries they have themselves inflicted on others, however unintentionally.
For myself, I know that when I have been insulted, it is an injury added to the insult for the offending person to profess friendship and deny that they meant to insult me. What does it say about me, after all, if I am so little esteemed that I may be accidentally insulted by my friends with the expectation that I wouldn’t dare resent it?
We cannot go around fighting duels — “Pistols at dawn, sir!” — every time we feel offended, and so we have to decide when to object to ill treatment and how to express those objections.
My unusual methods in this regard have sometimes been criticized, and perhaps deservedly so. But while these methods may be misunderstood or fail to elicit the desired remedy, at least no one can imagine that I am too stupid to know when I have been insulted, nor too cowardly to mention the insult. (Aside: It is amusing to observe how some people become enraged when their presumed authority to insult others is called into question: “How dare you notice my insults!”)
The other day, discussing with a friend a quarrel between two other friends, I pointed out what a painful choice we must sometimes make: Do we speak up about such things, and risk gaining a reputation as quarrelsome, “not a team player”? Or do we tolerate selfishness, bullying and/or incompetence, merely to keep the peace? And if we make the latter choice, aren’t we guilty of enabling abusive behavior?
There are a lot more situations and a lot more people implicated in that discussion than the specific example my friend and I were discussing. I’ve often said that if you volunteer to be a doormat, you forfeit the right to complain about the footprints on your back. The requirements of success in coalition politics compel us to work with people who have different opinions and beliefs, and it also requires an ability to tolerate a certain amount of hostile or abusive behavior from our allies, so long as they are doing effective work to advance our common cause.
No one is perfect, and we must judge whether the good that people do is sufficient to excuse their imperfections. Is Ralph Reed a conniving snake? Yes. Is he also a master of political organizing? Also, yes. So if we wish the conservative cause to benefit from Ralph Reed’s acknowledged skill as an organizer, we must put up with his conniving snakery.
(I cite Reed by name because I long ago burnt that particular bridge, but many other operatives are even more snaky than Reed.)
What happens, however, when our friends get screwed over? What are we supposed to do or say about such things? Should we mind our business and pretend that nothing happened? Or is it possible — and here I come close to my real point — that we risk harm to ourselves tomorrow if we fail to speak out about the harm done to others today?
Lessons From the Johnsonoid Debacle
When Charles Johnson first started going off the rails in 2007 or so, everybody in the conservative blogosphere tried to pretend that there was nothing wrong. It was merely a “blog war” between him and Pamela Geller, and folks tried to stay out of it. Charles was pointing the accusatory finger, and people weren’t disposed to question whether there was anything to it beyond a quarrel over European right-wingers.
The possibility that Charles was emotionally damaged, and acting out his own narcissistic psychodrama — well, who else but his victims had any reason to see it that way in 2007? It was not until Johnson came after me in September 2009 that the pathetic reality of his situation became apparent, and whatever wounds I suffered in that battle were worth it as the price of exposing the truth.
It was also worth it, to me, as a warning against the temptations of any such narcissistic delusions as had seized CJ’s soul. So . . .
Was my ill-considered “ThighGate” post symptomatic of any problem I need to be concerned about? It would be foolish of me to dismiss that possibility out of hand. When I become weary of the struggle and discouraged by the prospects for success, when it seems my efforts are underappreciated, and when circumstances cause me to feel anew the aching reminders of old injuries, it’s not my way to suffer alone in silence. There is only so much abuse I can tolerate before it causes me to react, and only so much therapeutic benefit to be derived from cussing at the dog or going for a 90-mph drive over narrow country roads.
This is supposed to be a blog about politics, not about me.
That’s the latest from Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, and it bugs me to no end when I let myself get so bogged down in mere personal blogging that I neglect to blog about, y’know, news.
If all this personal drama is tedious to me, I’m sure it’s even more tedious to you, and it only serves any purpose at all if it helps you understand whatever weird kinks of human frailty are involved in these episodes. Also, in terms of meta-blogging (that is, blogging about blogging), some of my colleagues in The New Media Proletariat may benefit from a glimpse at the kind of weird stuff that goes on inside my head, so that they say to themselves: “Good. I’m not the only one who feels like I’m going nuts on a daily basis.”
Ed Morrissey has a problem: He’s too damned sane for this line of work, and his unflappable sanity makes the rest of us kooks and weirdos feel uncomfortable: “What’s wrong with that dude?”
We expect one day to turn on the TV and see the live coverage with a news helicopter showing the police standoff in Minnesota.
BREAKING NEWS: Sources say the heavily-armed gunman, a so-called “blogger,” has held SWAT teams at bay all afternoon. Speculation that police have uncovered human remains behind the home of Edward Dwayne Morrissey, and that he is in fact the notorious Skid Row Reaper, could not be immediately confirmed . . .
Something like that. Liberals would accuse Ed of social injustice, unfairly monopolizing all the sanity in the blogosphere, and thereby depriving the rest of us of good mental health. And, if we were liberals, we would be convinced that his ostentatious sanity is a hypocritical mask, concealing unimaginable depths of hidden sadistic depravity.
Ed Morrissey tortures cats. We’re sure of it, and if his neighbors haven’t complained about the pitiful howls of his feline victims, it’s only because they’re afraid of his cat-torturing wrath.
While many have excoriated Glenn Reynolds for his infamous appetite for puppy smoothies, at least Professor Reynolds has the decency to kill those puppies humanely before he puts them in the blender, rather than forcing them to endure days and weeks of helpless torture, the way Ed does with cats. But I digress . . .
Some of my best friends are cat-torturers, and I sincerely apologize for my unseemly post about Tina Korbe, as well as for any imputation that Ed is anything other than a fine Christian gentleman who tortures cats and has a hobo graveyard behind his house.
UPDATE (Smitty): welcome, well-read Instapundit readers.
UPDATE II (RSM): Also linked by That Mr. G Guy who calls me “the best damned blogger on the intertoobs.” Obviously, he has forgiven me for those indiscretions with a mud shark.
It was consensual, of course. That mud shark was beggin’ for it.