Friday, January 28, 2011

Catch of the Day

I'm a day late on this, but I loved Conor Friedersdorf's takedown of this Barbara Ehrenreich op-ed. And not just because of this astonishingly good line:
The subset of Glenn Beck Web commenters who issue threats is perhaps the shoddiest data set in the history of bullshit extrapolation.
Yup. Overall, I'm inclined to agree with Friedersdorf about street protests in general. Meanwhile, in addition to Friedersdorf's (correct, I think) comments about Glenn Beck and political action, it's also worth noting that plenty of liberals marched in Washington last year, whether at Jon Stewart's (pointless, in my view) rally or at other explicitly liberal actions, including a large labor union rally in October. What's changed isn't that American have stopped marching; it's that marching has become such a routine political activity that few pay much attention to it (outside of cable news networks that dwell on their own self-sponsored actions).

Of course, this doesn't take away at all from the idea that threats of violence against Frances Fox Piven (or others who speak publicly about politics) are terrible, and that Glenn Beck is an irresponsible demagogue. But that's Ehrenreich's hook, not her argument.

At any rate, it's a terrific piece; read, as they say, the whole thing. And great catch!


  1. I get that political scientists are required (is it a blood oath, or something else?) to say that day-to-day political activities that are reported in the news are utterly meaningless, but isn't there a case to be made that the tea party rallies of last year were a smidgen more than a "routine" thing that "few paid attention to"? At the very least you had several serious rallies in Washington over the last two years (and all over the country; not sure if you were limiting that last crack to DC), and the Republicans had a pretty massive electoral gain. Those are two things you can either connect, or not. I don't know if they're connected or not, I haven't researched it, but I'm not really sure why you're *assuming* we can't connect them.

    Isn't there at least prima facie evidence for the claim that those marchers weren't *utterly* wasting their time; isn't there also some evidence that the 2009-10 period had more marches in general than prior eras? How routine was this, really? How self-indulgent were the cable networks?

  2. Martin, this is actually part of the reason Ehrenreich's piece is so bizarre. Conservatives seem to have discovered public protest in the past two years. They're taking to the National Mall and public venues in other cities to protest the direction of the government. That's exactly what Ehrenreich suggests Americans are too wussified to do.

    Meanwhile, I tend to doubt that conservative protests and GOP gains last year are causally related, although they were probably caused, to some extent, by similar things.

  3. Right. So in other words, the rallies are meaningful insofar as they indicate an actually existing level of passion. Jonathan didn't seem to allow even that -- he thinks there's too much coverage of them. This is the thing I would like him to address.

  4. Martin,

    I didn't really mean that no one should cover the various marches and rallies -- just that which ones do get covered is skewed by the media connections of the sponsors. Lots of coverage for Glenn Beck and Jon Stewart; much less for other things.

    Beyond that: what Seth said.

  5. I'm not really sure that Freidersdorf is tackling Ehrenreich's main point, or at least the point of hers that I found most interesting: does the 2nd amendment inevitably end up colliding with the 1st? (OK, not really, but it's a pithy way of putting it)

  6. Is it really the media connections of the sponsors? I think I'd put it another way. Rallies, like sporting events, music concerts, and most everything else, depend on effective means of promotion, which is a dirty word for grabbing the interest of people and motivating them to do something (go to a baseball game, go to a concert). Glenn Beck and Jon Stewart have managed to figure this out, and because they are major media figures, they can have "successful" rallies if they want to. I'd be interested to hear about the 100,000-or-so-person rallies on DC (or anywhere else) that were so ignored by the media -- I'm not saying they don't exist, but let's hear examples.

    Jon Stewart was famous before he got to TDS (not as famous), so you could argue that his rally was just an egotistical extension of his brand presence. Maybe. But Glenn Beck? The entire point of Beck is that he's a forceful and creative representative of a view that apparently a good many people share. This isn't Michael Jordan deciding to have a rally, it's a legitimate (in this case, stupid) representative of a political position. It's hard for me to understand how coverage of these events reflects mere insiderish connectivity among the various news outlets.


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