Monday, July 25, 2016

Where is the Civility in Political Journalism?

At the beginning of the Republican National Convention last week, NBC Today co-host Matt Lauer confronted presidential nominee Donald Trump about dialing down the intensity of the passions percolating at the event. “Would you be willing to make a pledge to speak to everyone involved in this convention and say, ‘Please tone down the rhetoric’?” Lauer urged. “Can you say to the people who are going to take to that podium this week, ‘No personal attacks, no vitriol, keep it civil’?”

The irony there is that political journalists themselves, Lauer included, have become as inflammatory as the politicians they lecture about incivility. In the aftermath of last month’s Orlando terrorist massacre at a gay nightclub, for example, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper badgered the increasingly offended Attorney General of Florida interminably about her stance on gay marriage. More recently, Fox News’ Shepherd Smith berated Gov. Bobby Jindal for using the “divisive” phrase “All lives matter.” CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who wears her biases as openly as her keffiyeh, hammered away contentiously at British MP Daniel Hannan for nine minutes over the recent Brexit vote.

Then there are the battles royal among the ubiquitous panels of TV pundits. Geraldo Rivera, who is as responsible for creating this toxic atmosphere as anyone, nearly came to blows on-camera last year with The Five co-host Eric Bolling. Don’t forget the mean-spirited partisan commentary from purported political comedians like Joy Behar, Jon Stewart, and Bill Maher. Some of it may entertain, but none of it enlightens and all of it divides.

This is not a new development. Already by 1996, twenty years ago, Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin pointed out in a keynote address that across America and the world, “no one questions the premise that political debate has become too extreme, too confrontational, too coarse.” In 1999 law professor Stephen Carter complained in his book Civility that Americans were losing the ability to debate respectfully.

Five years ago the University of Arizona was so concerned about our political incivility that it established the National Institute for Civil Discourse to promote “healthy and civil political debate.” Apparently the organization’s message cannot be heard above the din of political brawling, because the problem has only snowballed, culminating in this especially rude and raucous current election season. 

How did it come to this? How did our national conversation about politics become so degraded and hostile? The most obvious explanation is ratings. Ratings is the name of the television game, and polite, respectful, reasoned debates do not translate into soaring Nielsen numbers. As far back as 1968, with the unprecedentedly venomous convention debates between William Buckley and Gore Vidal, networks discovered that such combative interaction meant record ratings. Controversial personalities, heated crosstalk, personal feuds, angry insults, “gotcha” journalism – these all present an hypnotic appeal to the lowest common denominator of viewers, and the infection has spread from there.

Television brought this hostile tone into millions of homes, turning up the heat from a simmer to a boil, ultimately goading us into shouting insults at each other instead of respectfully seeking understanding and compromise. Add the rise of social media to the mix – Twitter, for example, is an absolute sewer of political viciousness – and you have a cultural environment utterly inimical to the formation of that “informed citizenry” which Thomas Jefferson believed indispensable to the proper functioning of a republic.

Another factor is the abandonment of journalistic neutrality. There was a time in living memory when reporters were expected to hold themselves to at least the pretense of a standard of objectivity. Too many of them now have openly embraced the disastrous trend of “advocacy journalism” and see their role in politics not as objective reporters of the facts but as activists on a mission. That encourages them to aggressively challenge politicians and pundits whom they see as opponents.

This blatant partisanship is one of the reasons viewers now hold the mainstream news media in such angry contempt (which accounts for a good portion of Donald Trump’s popularity; rather than court a hostile news media like previous Republican presidential candidates, Trump, a reality show hitmaker who knows a thing or two about grabbing ratings, has declared war on them).

Where is civil political journalism to be found anymore – or has that ship sailed for good? Is it passé and naïve now to expect journalists on either side of the aisle to maintain some measure of objectivity and civility? What will it take to dial down their vitriol, as Matt Lauer pleaded, and help keep our political discourse civil?

It begins with each one of us committing to civil political discourse in our own personal lives and rejecting the media’s emotional manipulation and unhealthy partisanship. Television journalists need incentive to change and that means hitting them where it hurts – in their ratings. As a society we must hold them to standards of fairness, truth, and civility. We must demand that commentators and reporters engage our intellect rather than inflame our anger. Of course we want them to ask the tough questions; their job should be to report the facts and to speak truth to power, not bow in deference or push an agenda. But they must take their egos and personal politics out of the equation. Our political future and our cultural harmony depend on it.

From Acculturated, 7/25/16

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Superheroes and the ‘Cult of American Hyper-Masculinity’

Exactly 28 years ago last Friday, Die Hard premiered in theaters and set the standard for action films thereafter. Part of its success derived from Bruce Willis’ brash, wise-cracking, quintessentially American character – the perfect foil to the late Alan Rickman’s suave Eurovillain – and partly for that reason, Die Hard is still my favorite action film. That’s why I was so disappointed to read that its director John McTiernan recently spewed some anti-American nonsense about another quintessentially American film hero in an interview for the French film magazine Premiere.

In response to a question about the recent decline in quality of “action cinema,” McTiernan derided Hollywood comic book adaptations like the Marvel and DC Comics franchises as mere “corporate products… made by fascists.” They’re populated by cartoon characters, not real people, he complained. “There is action but not of human beings,” he said dismissively (in translation). “Comic book heroes are for businesses.”

“You find that the big studios poison action cinema with ideology?” the interviewer asked, and McTiernan went off. “I hate most movies for political reasons,” he responded. “I cannot really see them. I'm pissed off the minute it starts.” He cannot watch a movie like Captain America, he says, “without laughing,” because

the cult of American hyper-masculinity is one of the worst things that has happened in the world during the last fifty years. Hundreds of thousands of people died because of this stupid illusion. So how is it possible to watch a movie called Captain America?

“I’m incapable of watching [such movies] calmly,” he concluded, and the politically like-minded interviewer reluctantly moved on.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Friday, July 15, 2016

Is There a Right Way to be a Boy?

The Huffington Post recently posted a photo series from a project called #ABoyCanToo, portraits of boys who pursue interests traditionally associated with girls. The article, titled, “13 Empowering Photos Show There’s No Right Way to Be a Boy,” praises the project for “shining a light on kids who don’t let gender norms prevent them from following their dreams.”
The photographer behind the collection, Canadian mom Kirsten McGoey, told HuffPost that she drew inspiration from her own three sons, especially the 8-year-old middle child, whose favorite activities are singing, acting, ballet and tap-dancing. “He loves sparkles, pink, rainbows, reading, and has never been concerned if something was ‘boy’ or ‘girl,’” she gushes.
McGoey has photographed 17 boys, her own among them, whose passions range from baking to reading books to dancing onstage to wearing hoop skirts. “Our little boy loves to do his hair with all sorts of hair accessories,” reads a proud parent’s caption under one of the photos. “He was born to dance and take flight,” reads another. “Our stage loving boy… simply lights up when the lights go down and the spotlights turn on,” says a third. The lesson McGoey has learned from her photo subjects, the message she wants to convey, is that their interests may be unconventional but they enable the boys to feel they are talented at something and are valued.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, and there is no need for traditionally-minded parents like myself to freak out. Young children are curious and should be encouraged to explore what interests them – that’s how they learn best – even if that interest ultimately fizzles out, as it often does. Sometimes what seems to be a kid’s passion ends up simply being a phase. When I was six I wanted to grow up to be, simultaneously, an astronomer and an archaeologist; needless to say, neither pursuit went anywhere, for which I’m relieved. My 6-year-old daughter used to be a tomboy and wanted to be the first female winner of American Ninja Warrior, and I encouraged that interest. Now she’s very feminine and wants to be, simultaneously, an architect and a doctor, and I’m encouraging those passions as well; but that doesn’t mean she is destined to become either one (although perhaps she is; time will tell).

The War on Cops

There is no more important book to read right now than Heather Mac Donald’s clear-eyed, riveting new work The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe. You cannot fully get to the core of the truth about the current anti-cop sentiment in the country, or be armed with the facts to shoot down Black Lives Matter lies without reading it. If you can get a copy, that is – demand is so great that there is currently a one-to-two month wait for it on Don’t wait – get the ebook.
In case you haven’t already been following everything Mac Donald writes, she is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. Her writings have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, The New Republic, Partisan Review, The New Criterion, and elsewhere.
She is the recipient of the New Jersey State Law Enforcement Officers Association’s 2004 Civilian Valor Award, the 2008 Integrity in Journalism award from the New York State Shields, the 2008 Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration from the Center for Immigration Studies, and the 2012 Quill & Badge Award for Excellence in Communication from the International Union of Police Associations. In other words, unlike the legion of talking heads in the news media pontificating about the racism in American law enforcement, Heather Mac Donald has actually done the journalistic legwork, is qualified to discuss the subject, and is bold enough to speak the truth about it.
The War on Cops begins by noting that crime is skyrocketing in cities across the United States as “the most anti-law-enforcement administration in memory draws to a close.” This isn’t, however, “the greatest danger in today’s war on cops. The greatest danger lies, rather, in the delegitimization of law and order itself.” If we don’t begin to counter the present lies about law enforcement propagated by the Black Lives Matter movement and facilitated by a complicit media and by the “academic victimology industry,” Mac Donald concludes, civilized urban life will break down – which we are already beginning to witness.
Ms. Mac Donald took time out to answer a few questions about crime, terrorism, and the recent Dallas cop shooting for FrontPage Mag.

Tim McGraw’s ‘Humble and Kind’ Movement

I’m not especially a fan of country music, although I do respect the genre for being song-oriented, for telling stories about real human emotions, and for featuring performers who can actually play, sing, and write – all of which is too often absent from the sampled beats and profane braggadocio that pass for music and lyrics in contemporary Top 40. So it took a friend to introduce me to a touching song performed by superstar Tim McGraw that not only was a number one hit this year, but that is inspiring a groundswell of unusual activism among its fans.

The single “Humble and Kind,” written by singer/songwriter Lori McKenna, was released on January 20 off McGraw's album Damn Country Music and went on to reach number one on the country music charts in both the United States and Canada. The song’s video, featuring affecting imagery from Oprah Winfrey’s documentary Belief, won “Video of the Year” at the 2016 CMT Music Awards.

In the lyrics, McGraw offers some parental life advice to a child departing for college – and in fact, his own daughter Gracie, who recently journeyed off to school herself, was in the forefront of his mind when he recorded the song. The sentiment was genuine. “I cried through every take,” he admitted. “It certainly is a letter to your kids in a lot of ways.” McKenna, too, said she had her own five children in mind when she wrote it.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Wednesday Morning Club: Heather Mac Donald

On Wednesday, July 20, the David Horowitz Freedom Center will be hosting a Wednesday Morning Club event featuring Heather Mac Donald, author of the indispensable new book The War on Cops: How the New War on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe. There couldn't be a timelier book or a more clear-eyed truth-teller on the topic.

I'm honored to introduce Ms. Mac Donald at the event, which will be held at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. For more information, click here.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Does Character Matter Anymore in Politics?

The 2016 presidential election seems headed toward a showdown between the two least-liked presidential candidates since American voters have been polled on the question – and with good reason. One is a vindictive, politically ruthless, unrepentant liar; the other is an egomaniacal, boorish, bullying braggart. Neither one even bothers to pay lip service to the values of honesty, integrity, humility, and moral courage, and yet somehow this distasteful duo has emerged from the campaign battle royal as the presumptive party nominees.
What does this say about personal character in American politics today? Does character in politics matter any longer, or are principles now just hindrances to winning elections? After Nixon and Watergate, and certainly after the scandals of Hillary Clinton’s husband Bill in the 1990s, are we cynically resigned to a political culture that dismisses moral exemplars as suckers and losers instead of role models and leaders?
This isn’t an entirely new development. History is littered with examples of leaders of dubious character or worse. Many people enter the political arena with a genuine commitment to civil service or a passion to change the world, but politics has always attracted a disproportionate share of scoundrels with a bottomless lust for power and self-aggrandizement. The difference is that now we seem to be accepting, if not actually embracing, the latter.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Antidote to Toxic Masculinity

The recent slaughter of nearly 50 people in an Orlando gay bar is now the deadliest mass shooting in American history, and as such it has ratcheted up our national conversation about guns and terrorism into a frenzied crosstalk about whom and what to blame: Islam? The NRA? Homophobia? Salon’s Amanda Marcotte believes it can all be explained by “toxic masculinity.”

Toxic masculinity is a concept from the men’s movement that feminists like Marcotte have pounced on to explain the root cause of all violent male misbehavior from gay-bashing to domestic violence to terrorism. “It is a specific model of manhood,” she writes, “geared towards dominance and control. It’s a manhood that views women and LGBT people as inferior, sees sex as an act not of affection but domination, and which valorizes violence as the way to prove one’s self to the world.”

I don’t dispute that the notion of toxic masculinity applies to many men. But Marcotte, heavy on sneering and light on facts, uses the concept to rope such losers together with her favorite target – Republican male gun owners, whom she dismisses as posturing and insecure bullies – and to make them responsible for mass shootings with such varied motives as mental illness, workplace violence, and Islamic terrorism: “[T]his persistent pressure to constantly be proving manhood and warding off anything considered feminine or emasculating is the main reason why we have so many damn shootings in the United States.”

Marcotte goes on in that vein – and on and on: “Being able to stockpile weapons and have ever bigger and scarier-looking guns is straightforward and undeniable overcompensation [sic] insecure men, trying to prove what manly men they are.” We need a society, she says, “with more dancing and less waving guns around while talking about what a manly man you imagine yourself to be.”

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Evening Reception and Talk with Daniel Greenfield

I'm proud to introduce my friend Daniel Greenfield of the Sultan Knish blog at this event tonight in L.A.

Honor and the Brock Turner Rape Case

The internet has been afire lately with the shocking story of the rape of a young woman by a Stanford University athlete, and the subsequent slap on the wrist he received from the judge in the case. Apart from the pain and injustice suffered by the victim, at the heart of this story is a failure of male honor.

In January 2015 two passing students spotted Brock Turner, 20, behind a dumpster outside a Stanford frat house, raping a young woman passed out from drinking. He tried to flee but the students tackled him and held him for the police. Brock eventually was given a six-month sentence and probation, a lightweight punishment that sparked an explosion of online protest, particularly after the victim herself posted online a devastating statement that went viral about the rape and its effect on her.

Prior to the sentencing, Brock’s father wrote a letter to Judge Aaron Persky attesting to his son’s character and sincere remorse. The father referred to the rape as “the events” of that night, and does not mention Brock’s victim at all. He begs the judge not to ruin the boy’s promising future over what he called, in stunningly tone-deaf phrasing, “20 minutes of action.” He apparently did not consider how those 20 minutes irrevocably altered the victim’s future as well.

Brock’s mother also wrote a plea for mercy to the judge. Not one of her nearly 3500 words refers to the crime or Brock’s victim. It’s as if Brock’s family was simply struck one day with undeserved misfortune that affected no one else. In fact, to read both these letters, one would think that Brock himself was the victim – the victim of a guilty verdict. His parents seem wholly detached from any sympathy for the actual victim of their son’s assault. I understand that the intent of their letters was to shift the focus from the crime to their son’s positive qualities, but they gave no indication that they believe Brock should bear any responsibility for such an ugly act.

Even more disturbing is the reaction of Brock himself, who tried in his own desperate statement to the judge to place the blame on peer pressure and Stanford’s “party culture,” which he promised to devote himself to spreading awareness about. “I want to take what I can from who I was before this situation happened,” he said [emphasis added]. “I know I can impact and change people’s attitudes towards the culture surrounded by binge drinking and sexual promiscuity that protrudes through what people think is at the core of being a college student.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Platitudes and Hashtags Won’t Stop Terrorism

Once again, international landmarks are lit up brightly in solidarity with victims of Islamic barbarism, and social media are festooned with hashtags of sympathy for the butchered. Enough. Such safe and easy displays are well-meaning but they serve little purpose beyond making us feel good about our compassion; then we settle back into being comfortably numb (pace Pink Floyd) about the ongoing threat until the next time dozens are killed. It’s long past time we broke the cycle of mourning our dead and started taking concrete actions to prevent more fatalities.
After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the social media slogan “Je Suis Charlie” went viral. After the ghastly Paris attacks last November, Facebook supporters swathed their profile pics in the French flag. The victims of the San Bernardino jihadist assault in December got short shrift because the city unfortunately doesn’t have a flag to make virtue-signaling convenient. But after the Brussels slaughter in March, the French tricoleur was swapped out for Belgium’s black, yellow, and red. Now that fifty Orlando gay clubgoers are dead and another fifty+ wounded, rainbows abound.
These are the touching but ultimately empty gestures of a culture that is already resigned to losing the clash of civilizations. They will do nothing to save lives the next time around – and there will continue to be many more “next times” throughout the West until we say no more, until we refuse to accept that suffering terrorist savagery is our new normal. We must reverse our mindset, think like conquerors instead of the conquered, and deal aggressively with the source of all this misery: Islam.
In the wake of the Orlando massacre, the calls to fight this relentless evil with love were legion. Shark Tank co-host Robert Herjavec’s tweet exemplifies their sincere but impotent heartache: “There are just no words,” he wrote. “Nothing seems appropriate enough. Just choose Love. Love Wins #PrayersForOrlando” With all due respect to Herjavec, my favorite TV entrepreneur, choosing love isn’t enough when someone else has chosen to kill you. In the face of such a merciless enemy, it is not love we must choose but life, and we do that by choosing not to be a victim, by choosing to fight back, by choosing to kill if necessary. Choosing life by taking another’s may seem like a contradiction or hypocrisy to the morally confused, but that is often the choice we are given in the eternal clash of good and evil. And if we are unwilling and unprepared to make that choice, the enemy will make it for us.
Big Government harpy Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted a similarly high-minded message. “That’s the message of Pride,” she wrote. “That’s who we are. That’s how we’ll defeat hate, & how we protect America.” She closed with the meaningless hashtag “#loveislove,” a bland sentiment that is sure to soften the stony hearts of ISIS killers, if only they would take a break from videotaping gruesome snuff films long enough to read Warren’s Twitter feed. Sorry, Fauxcahontas, we will not defeat “hate” and protect America through pride; it’s going to take going to war with fundamentalist Islam, and that’s a bridge too far for leftists who are already locked into what David Horowitz calls an unholy alliance with radical Islam.
For some reason Nashville Mayor Megan Barry felt compelled to issue a similar statement about the Orlando massacre. She momentarily hit the right note, calling the killings “pure evil”; but then she kicked the legs out from under that assertion with this vomit-inducing solution: “We must meet that evil with an overwhelming show of love.” No, we must meet evil with an overwhelming show of righteous force.
The cast of the Tony-winning historical musical Hamilton symbolically acknowledged the Orlando terrorism by performing that Sunday evening without muskets – a pathetic misfire of a gesture which did not target jihad at all but rather steered the issue toward the left’s foremost obsession (well, second only to transgender bathrooms): gun confiscation.
Speaking of Tonys, host James Corden opened Sunday night’s Tony Awards in New York City with a somber announcement about “the horrific events” in Orlando (Islam was never mentioned, of course, nor was the word “terrorism”). “Your tragedy is our tragedy,” he intoned, referring to the audience behind him who apparently were so traumatized by the Orlando atrocity that they could find healing only by attending a black tie event of Broadway theater entertainment. “Hate will never win,” Corden promised, to an explosion of applause.
I have news for Mr. Corden and everyone on Twitter who feels that an abundance of #LoveWins hashtags will somehow crush ISIS: jihadist hate most certainly will win if we, all of us, don’t drop the mushy platitudes and begin fighting in a very literal sense for our lives, our families, our country, and our civilization.
The very first step is for all of us, from our leadership on down, to acknowledge that the root cause of all this butchery is Islam – not the AR-15, not the NRA, not “easy access to guns,” not colonialism, not “Islamophobia,” not the alienation of Muslims from society, not global warming, not poverty, not the Tea Party, not “a tiny minority of extremists,” not the Israeli “occupation” of “Palestine,” not some amorphous “hate,” but the racist, violent, theocratic, supremacist ideology of Islam. Our leaders from the White House on down must be unafraid to state that the world has a jihad problem, and to express a determination of Churchillian magnitude to defeat it.
Beyond that, there are some glaringly obvious concrete steps we must take. In no particular order, here are a few for a good start: vote the radical left and RINOs out of office; fight to your last breath for your 1st and 2nd Amendment rights; marginalize or better yet shut down all the Muslim Brotherhood legacy groups, whose mission is to destroy us from within – from CAIR to the Islamic Society of North America to the Muslim Students Association and all the rest; shut down imams who foster radicalism; get serious about our borders and our immigration policies; make a thorough housecleaning of every security-sensitive position from Homeland Security to airport baggage handling; lay merciless waste to ISIS.
Don’t get me wrong. Gestures of solidarity can be psychologically empowering, though it’s doubtful they will demoralize the fanatical enemy we are facing. Hashtags, as silly as they often are, can spread awareness. The power of love is unquestionably transformative. But love can change only one willing soul at a time; it cannot in one fell swoop erase the cruelty and hatred from the hearts of ISIS or from generations of fundamentalist Muslims brainwashed to love death more than life and to despise infidels with a murderous fury. Changing the enemy through love sounds beautiful but in reality is an incremental – sometimes even generational – process and not a strategy to reverse the tide of evil now
Mourning the victims of violent jihad brings us all together as Americans. Enough. Now it’s time that we are just as united by our resolve to eradicate this scourge.
From FrontPage Magazine, 6/14/16