Subscribe via RSS Feed

Glenn Reynolds demonstrates how to avoid politicizing a tragedy

[ 78 ] July 22, 2012 |

As everyone who pays attention to political blogging knows, tragedies are too tragic to politicize. Discussing gun control in the wake of a tragic shooting is despicable political opportunism. Discussing the discussion of gun control in the wake of a tragic shooting, however, isn’t politically opportunistic because it’s a morally neutral, second-order discussion about a discussion. It’s a meta-discussion about the propriety of having a political discussion in the wake of a tragic shooting, meaning it’s an apolitical discussion whose participants are immune to the charge that they’re violating decorum by politicizing a tragedy. For example, here’s Glenn Reynolds’s first post about Aurora:

A TRULY AWFUL mass shooting in Denver. At the Batman premiere.

UPDATE: More here.

It doesn’t exploit the tragedy by using it to score cheap political points, so no one could accuse him of political opportunism. But here’s his second post on the tragic shooting:

POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM: CNN’s Piers Morgan, First to Use Colorado Tragedy to Assault Second Amendment Rights. I’m sure he won’t be the last.

Others may blame Hollywood. In both cases, it’s a mix of opportunism and a desire not to confront the existence of evil. Well, okay, in Piers Morgan’s case, it’s not much of a mix, really.

UPDATE: Left Blames Aurora Shooting On Rush Limbaugh. Of course they do. Hey, never let a tragedy go to waste, when you might use it to smear an opponent.

Every time something like this happens, they roll out the blood libels.

Because conservative bloggers have established that it’s not political opportunism to discuss political opportunism, this technically doesn’t qualify as an exploitation of the tragic shooting, because pointing out other people’s political opportunism isn’t politically opportunistic—even though the people doing the pointing are ideologically opposed to the people they’re pointing at. Every conservative blogger knows that. Reynold’s next post qualifies as non-opportunistic for the same reason:

FIRST, ABC NEWS CONNECTS THE COLORADO SHOOTING WITH THE TEA PARTY, now Brian Ross says oops, sorry about that.

Reaction: “Brian Ross must be fired by the end of the day.”

What’s pathetic is that every time, they so clearly want to blame tragedies like this on the Tea Party. I don’t generally like these calls for firings, and Ross was no doubt just reading what a producer sent him, but . . . They know how to be exquisitely sensitive and non-prejudgey when it might be a Muslim or some other protected minority, so maybe the only way to encourage them to show better judgment the rest of the time is to cost some people their jobs. Who was the producer? Meanwhile, I look forward to the libel suit. . . .

UPDATE: ABC News goes into “Damage Control Mode.”

ANOTHER UPDATE: Jim Treacher on Twitter: “It’s not even about @BrianRoss. It’s about a subculture with a view of the world in which @BrianRoss’s assumption there is only natural.”

MORE: Here’s an interview with the man ABC News libeled.

MORE STILL: A roundup of “progressive” scapegoating, some of it racist.

STILL MORE: Prof. Stephen Clark writes: “Yes, but ‘subculture’ suggests a smaller group than it actually is. The condescension implicit in these repeated attempts by the likes of Ross is widely shared. And though observed frequently, these acts highlight one of the great cultural divides yet to be fully examined. Academics like Haidt have only scratched the surface by shining a light on the divide.”

There’s nothing politically opportunistic about this post—despite its implicit defense of the Tea Party and explicit criticism of progressive thought. There’s also nothing politically opportunistic about the next post:

RICK MORAN: Why is Brian Ross Still Working for ABC News? “ABC News reporter Brian Ross committed what used to be a fatal mistake to a journalist’s career: He blurted out a wild, unsubstantiated, speculative observation that hadn’t been vetted by anyone and was explosively political at the same time. . . . And what made Ross make a beeline straight for the Tea Party website in the first place?” Reckless disregard?

Or the next one:

MARY KATHARINE HAM: Details about Colorado shooter emerge as ABC apologizes for false Tea Party reporting.

Or the next one:

BUT REMEMBER, THE BIG MEDIA FOLKS ARE “RESPONSIBLE,” NOT LIKE THOSE GRUBBY BLOGGERS: Brian Ross, media malpractice consequences: Falsely accused Tea Party member receiving threats.

Or the next one:

MATT WELCH: Half-Assed Media Speculation About the Batman Shooter.

Or the next one:

THE ANCHORESS WRITES ON THE PRESS’S TOXIC ENTHRALLMENT, and Kevin Drum says it’s “time for Brian Ross to find a new job. I don’t normally call for people’s heads for making a mistake, even a bad one, but this is really beyond the pale. What kind of reporter says something like this on national TV despite knowing full well that he has no idea if he’s pegging the right person? Is there really any good reason Ross should still be employed by ABC News by the close of business today?” Hey, when you’re getting this kind of treatment at Mother Jones. . . .

UPDATE: Colorado Tea Party Member Smeared by ABC’s Brian Ross: “What kind of idiot makes that kind of statement?” First class.

ANOTHER UPDATE: “Breathtakingly reckless.” And that’s from . . . Gawker. “OK then! There’s some guy on the internet with the same name. That is literally all Ross had—no other connection, not one reason to even remotely suspect that it’s the same Holmes. Just that there is a guy with that name, on the internet.” Reckless disregard? If I were the Tea Party Holmes, I’d have my lawyer talking to ABC right now. My terms: Groveling apology to be repeated on at least two national newscasts, plus This Week and all Colorado affiliates. Plus $250K in damages. No apology by tonight, and the demand goes to $5 million. Oh, and guys, be sure to preserve all records, browser histories, etc. for litigation. . . .

And Brian Ross’s track record might support an argument that it’s reckless to have him on the air at all . . .

Or the next one:

PETER WEHNER: Brian Ross and Politicizing The Aurora Massacre.

Or the next one:

MORE BLOWBACK: ABC NEWS MUST FIRE BRIAN ROSS.

Or the next one:

YOU KNOW, MAYBE IT IS RECKLESS DISREGARD JUST PUTTING BRIAN ROSS ON THE AIR: I had forgotten this libel case involving Brian Ross until reader Rich Andrews sent the link. Key bit:

Judge Crocker said Wednesday that he was convinced the NBC News reporters, Brian Ross and Ira Silverman, had ”serious subjective doubts as to the truth of the broadcasts” but went ahead anyway.

Frankly, at this point, just hiring the guy should send your libel insurance carriers into a frenzy. And would you want to be deposed about why you went ahead and hired him, after such a record of untrustworthiness? . . .

UPDATE: How bad is Brian Ross? Even Wonkette is calling for him to be fired:

Jesus fucking Christ on a hotplate. Brian Ross and his BLOTTER INVESTIGATIVE TEAM googled for a few minutes and didn’t bother trying to confirm anything and wow, huh, look at that, he was wrong. . . .

Tea Party people on the Internet are furious over this, and they have every right to be, because it’s an egregious, early error that will color the impressions of people no matter how frequently or aggressively it’s retracted. Can Brian Ross! Put him in the goddamn street. He is constantly wrong, at reporting on national television.

Would you write a libel policy for an outlet that employed him?

ANOTHER UPDATE: More anger.

MORE: Is ABC News’ Brian Ross Trustworthy? No. Next question?

STILL MORE: Reader Chad Hunter points out that the libel verdict was overturned. “In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that there was insufficient evidence to show that NBC News reporters had either deliberately lied or recklessly disregarded the truth, the legal standard that applies when libel suits are brought by public figures.” Hmm. Some people would nonetheless be chastened by such an experience. Ross not so much, apparently.

Or the next one:

UM, NOT LYING? The Difference Between A Network Reporter And A Blogger.

Or the next one:

JOURNALISM PROF. JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Slow to learn: Lesson for journos in Brian Ross’ egregious error on ABC.

Brian Ross’ appalling error linking the Tea Party movement to the suspected Batman-movie shooter in Colorado demonstrates anew how slow journalists can be in grasping an elementary lesson of disaster coverage: Resist temptation to report more than you can immediately verify.

In the hours just after a disaster, journalists tend to be especially prone to error and imprecision, as Ross, the chief investigative correspondents for ABC News, amply demonstrated in declaring today on Good Morning America:

“There is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado, page on the Tea Party site as well, talking about him joining the Tea Party last year.

“Now, we don’t know if this is the same Jim Holmes,” Ross added, “but it is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colo.”

The suspect arrested in the shootings early today at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, is named James Holmes. But he is not the “Jim Holmes” to whom Ross referred, and the suspected killer has no known connections to the grassroots Tea Party movement, which advocates restraints in government spending. . . . Whatever the reason, his error on a television program that attracts 4.5 million viewers was inexcusable — and eminently preventable.

In the swirling uncertainty that invariably marks the hours after a disaster, journalists are well-served to show deliberation and restraint, to be mindful that error and distortion often blight the first reports of dramatic events.

Plus, the emptiness of ABC’s apology.

Or the next one:

JAMES TARANTO: With Extreme Prejudice: How ABC News “investigates” a horrific crime.

At this point it’s been twenty four hours since Glenn Reynolds learned about the tragic shooting. During those twenty four hours, he wrote fourteen posts and thirteen updates about the tragic shooting. Despite the fact that thirteen of the posts and twelve of the updates concern Brian Ross’s remarks about the Tea Party, Glenn Reynolds believes that none of those thirteen posts or twelve updates exploit the tragic shooting because he’s only discussing the discussion, not the tragedy itself. That warrants repeating:

Even though Glenn Reynolds writes thirteen posts and twelve updates about Brian Ross in the twenty four hours following the tragic shooting, he believes he is not being politically opportunistic because he’s discussing the discussion, not the tragedy itself. This is because Glenn Reynolds is using Brian Ross’s remarks about the Tea Party, not the tragic shooting itself, to further a campaign to have Brian Ross fired for his remarks about the Tea Party. This is not political opportunism, even if it’s meant to prevent political opponents of the Tea Party from saying anything about guns or gun control in the hours after a tragic shooting, because Glenn Reynolds is discussing the discussion, not the tragedy itself.

Only—no. The evidence above speaks for itself. Glenn Reynolds clearly exploited Brian Ross’s remarks about the Tea Party as a means of forwarding his anti-gun control position. His belief—shared by many conservative bloggers—that second-order exploitations of a tragedy don’t qualify as exploitative is simply wrong. So too is his belief—again shared by many conservative bloggers—that one oppositional political remark about a tragedy grants them license to write endlessly about that remark without having to worry about appearing politically opportunistic. Any statement made in the furtherance of a political agenda qualifies as a a political statement, and given both the content and volume of Reynolds’ posts and updates in the wake of the tragic shooting, it’s fair to say that not only has Reynolds politicized this tragedy, he’s done so in a manner that deserves scorn.

He should be embarrassed by his response to this tragedy, not because it’s political—politicizing a tragedy isn’t inherently despicable—but because of the breathlessness of the exploitation. He clearly enjoys having the opportunity to exploit a tragedy to further his political agenda, because he believes himself shielded against moral scolds by his sophistic insistence that discussing a discussion isn’t political. It is. What makes him despicable isn’t his incorrect belief that he’s operating apolitically so much as the self-satisfied smirk on his face when he claims he is.

UPDATE: His latest update requires me to ask: Has any man ever been so doggedly committed to the cause of self-satire?

REMEMBERING THE VICTIMS OF this month’s massacre in Chicago. “A mass murder like Aurora, Colorado, naturally grabs the headlines and attention, as it should. A presidential recognition of the murders is appropriate. Yet more than twice as many people have been murdered this month in the president’s hometown of Chicago than were killed in the Aurora shooting. They are just statistics for whom there will be no presidential visits or flags flown at half staff.”

Well, since Chicago already has very strict gun control, these deaths can’t be turned to political use.

No, I think not.

 

Comments (78)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. spearmint1966 says:

    Note as well that the obvious parallel to Brian Ross is Breitbart.com’s Joel Pollak, who published an erroneous article claiming that Holmes was a registered Democrat, then sort of retracted it a few hours later (without apology). Reynolds certainly knew of this, as it was blog/twitter chatter, and mentioned in Matt Welch’s article. Plus of course Reynolds is a huge Breitbart fan in general. But he never mentioned it on Instapundit, not even to make some lousy argument why it’s OK because it was retaliation or whatever. As he would say, doesn’t fit the narrative.

    • SEK says:

      His silence when his side does it isn’t necessarily hypocritical, though. The man possesses no self-awareness — he’s incapable of understanding the damning irony of writing fourteen posts scolding someone else for saying something about something for which the only proper response is respectful silence.

      • Clark says:

        Lack of self-awareness and shamelessness are the hallmarks of a movement conservative.

      • DrDick says:

        He somehow also manages to miss all the posts by conservatives about how all this could have been avoided if everyone in the theater was packing heat.

      • Randy Paul says:

        That’s precisely it: he has no self-awareness.

        I honestly don’t understand why anyone even gives him any oxygen on this side. I stopped reading him when he was gloating about the elderly in France dying from a heat wave and when he had his little wargasm about the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Iraq, killing among others, Sergio Vieira de Mello and Arthur Helton, two men, who did more good in their foreshortened lives, than Glenn Reynolds could do if he lived to be 1,000.

    • Clark says:

      Don’t assume that he reads the articles that he links.

  2. Epicurus says:

    Here’s a headline: UT LAW SCHOOL MUST FIRE GLENN REYNOLDS! He is just such a complete embarrassment at this point.

    • Clark says:

      I work at UT and only laziness has kept me from printing some of his greatest hits and posting them in the law school.

      • Jameson Quinn says:

        How much free chocolate would it take to overcome that laziness?

      • a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

        I’m in for any other food items that might get you motivated, and I’m sure we could collect for print costs.

        • swearyanthony says:

          I reckon we might find out pretty quickly how much he really cares about free speech in academia at that point. He’s the one always going on about horrible leftists suppressing free speech in colleges. Why do I suspect that “no no this is different”. Probably something about how people are trying to silence him. “The answer to bad speech is more speech” will be invalid because of some previously undiscovered footnote to the 1st Amendment.

          Then Malkin has the “blog for Instapundit” day, they break out the twibbons and the hashtags, and the right has a new martyr.

  3. ploeg says:

    In sum, the entire exercise is to avoid having to answer the questions that might be raised by thinking about the incident. Don’t talk about what can be done to prevent similar incidents, because that is “politicizing the issue”. And for FSM’s sake don’t get a fact wrong, because we’re going to talk about that ceaselessly so that we can avoid answering the questions that might be raised by thinking about the incident.

    • DrDick says:

      As the Texas Republican Party platform clearly states, they are adamantly opposed to thinking, especially of the analytical and critical variety.

  4. wengler says:

    Yeah, we wouldn’t want to have discussions about how further tragedies could be prevented. Only Hitler would endorse such a thing.

    What I don’t understand about the gun control debate is the fact that there seems to be no outrage that so many guns are already restricted. Why isn’t the NRA pushing for my right to buy a M-60 without pesky and expensive federal government licensing requirements? We can only buy the crappy garden variety guns without any sort of license? I want my country back!

    • Turbulence says:

      You haven’t spent enough time chatting with second amendment fanatics (lucky you!). They originalist second amendment “scholarship” turns up a clear textual distinction between individual weapons and crew-served weapons; restrictions on the former are constitutionally verboten while restrictions on the latter are constitutionally OK. The M-60 is typically operated by more than one person.

      • Holden Pattern says:

        RPGs and shoulder-fired anti-air missiles are one-man weapons. So are grenades. Why can’t I have those?

      • Pseudonym says:

        I see the Second Amendment referring to a militia and the right of people (plural) to keep and bear arms, but nothing about anything limiting it to individuals. I think this is just liberal activist judges making up a reason to prevent me from getting a concealed carry permit for my M198 howitzer.

        • Pseudonym says:

          And don’t make me bring up the ill-fated XM2001 Crusader, which had enough robotic automation to only require one gunner. The Founding Fathers must be rolling in their graves now, as they clearly never intended to prevent me from bringing one of those into my local movie theater.

        • Holden Pattern says:

          This. Though my point was that even the one-person rule doesn’t account for the arbitrary limitation we place on the right.

          Why, it’s almost as if the NRA’s reading of the Second Amendment adopted by the wingtardia (including the Republicans on SCOTUS) was an opportunistic attempt to increase the sale of mass-market weaponry to irrationally frightened exurban white people.

        • Anonymous says:

          The same language “The right of the people” is also used with ” to be secure in their persons…”

          That is clearly not a collective right, but an individual one, so I don’t see how that phrasing shows us anything.

  5. Every time something like this happens, they roll out the blood libels.

    Low-resonance metaphors like “blood libel” are the wisest course here.

    • Joshua says:

      They said the same thing about the Giffords shooting.

      Is that just part of their creepy obsession with Israel?

      • Heron says:

        There might be some of that there; some weird attempt to woo Jewish voters who, inexplicably to your average conservative, continue to vote for Democrats and leftists despite the R’s enthusiastic support for the eradication of Palestinians. However, I’d say this is primarily the usual Con victimology we’re all used to; just as high taxes for the mega rich are the exact same thing as slavery, a reporter desperate for a scoop in the hours following a tragedy reporting possible right-wing links is indistinguishable from pogrom-justifying accusations that Jewish communities use the blood of christian boys to bake their unleavened bread.

        • Pseudonym says:

          You have your metaphors all wrong. It’s welfare and affirmative action that are the exact same thing as slavery, in that they keep blacks dependent and living on the Democrat plantation. Taxes are the Democrat socialists’ way of committing legalized plunder by ripping off hardworking Americans and giving their hard-earned resources to people who don’t work a lick. Taxes are theft, spending is slavery. Keep them straight. (By which I mean not like those homosexual sodomites.)

          • Heron says:

            No, I’ve encountered them calling taxes slavery, too. The argument seems to be that all the money rich people get is earned by their work, and if you take that money then their work becomes something without personal reward, which is slavery. Rs certainly make the dependency argument you’ve put forward, but slavery is just too juicy and too on-the-mind for them to limit it to a single modern equivalent.

            • Holden Pattern says:

              I thought taxes were the holocaust, per Grover Norquist. It’s so hard to keep all of this in the right wingtard categories.

  6. greylocks says:

    When your only argument for the lack of reasonable gun control is a tortured interpretation of 27 words written 230 years ago when the breach-loading rifle was a new-fangled toy that didn’t work particularly well, of course you’re going to squeal like a stuck pig every time the other side “politicizes” the tragedy by pointing out that it’s your fucking fault the lunatic was carrying more weapons than a jarhead in Iraq.

    • Jamie says:

      That’s a blood libel!

      Ow, my hurty fee-fees! Because dscussing policy about high-performance weaponry availability is exactly the same as claiming Jews drink the blood of presumed rivals.

      Alternately, the David Kopel approach is to say that we don’t want to discuss this right now, in the heat of passion. Let’s wait, and discuss it sanely and soberly, after this latest atrocity is out of the news. Just like every other time that has worked. (The NRA pays well, don’t blame him.)

  7. Corpus Christy says:

    Does this post also qualify as meta-sploitation ?

  8. Malaclypse says:

    Meanwhile, I look forward to the libel suit

    Wait, libel can happen by speaking now? When did that change? Or is Reynolds stupider than I thought?

  9. montag says:

    It’s as if Reynolds is trying mightily to convince that his reputation does not precede him, and all this is tabula rasa, which, of course, is unadulterated horseshit.

    He’s a fuckin’ gun nut.

  10. James E. Powell says:

    I can’t remember the last time I read anything by or about Glenn Reynolds without the word ‘asshole’ popping into my head.

    He (apparently) sees himself as one of several persons who are honor-bound to write stupid right-wing stuff no matter what event or issue is leading the news. It is his idea of what a right-wing blogger is supposed to do. Truth, analysis, reflection . . . none of these are necessary to the task nor are they desired by the writer.

  11. SEK says:

    Has any man ever been so doggedly commited to the cause of self-satire?

    REMEMBERING THE VICTIMS OF this month’s massacre in Chicago. “A mass murder like Aurora, Colorado, naturally grabs the headlines and attention, as it should. A presidential recognition of the murders is appropriate. Yet more than twice as many people have been murdered this month in the president’s hometown of Chicago than were killed in the Aurora shooting. They are just statistics for whom there will be no presidential visits or flags flown at half staff.”

    Well, since Chicago already has very strict gun control, these deaths can’t be turned to political use.

    No, I think not.

  12. BigHank53 says:

    What makes him despicable isn’t his incorrect belief that he’s operating apolitically so much as the self-satisfied smirk on his face when he claims he is.

    That smirk appears so frequently (Heh. Indeed.) that it’s led me to wonder if he was drawn to conservatism merely because it afforded more opportunities for self-satisfied smirking.

    • Pseudonym says:

      Are you suggesting there might be some other reason people would be drawn to the modern conservative movement?

  13. Informant says:

    I’ll make the observation that Wonkette has called for Ross to be fired too: http://wonkette.com/478865/abc-news-should-fire-brian-ross-and-other-notes-on-being-terrible

    Also, I can’t find it at the moment, but I saw someone else pointing out yesterday that Ross should have been fired years ago for his Iraq reporting, which supposedly consisted of doing littler more than spouting whatever lies he was spoonfed by Bush administration insiders.

  14. Timb says:

    What is wrong with the Denver suburbs? How many mass shooting incidents need to occur before Coloradans ask themselves what is wrong?

    • Curmudgeon says:

      What’s wrong with the Denver suburbs?

      Too many Christian fundamentalists too busy waiting for the rapture to care about the world they live in.

      • John says:

        It hardly seems as though either this shooter or the Columbine shooters were fundamentalist Christians.

        • witless chum says:

          Fundie political preferences for Republicans have strengthened forces opposed to trying to make the U.S. a less-armed society and, thus, made things like this more likely. Probably not a decisive force, given the popularity of guns across the board, but it’s in there.

      • Pseudonym says:

        I thought that was centered more around Colorado Springs.

  15. Socraticsilence says:

    Well of course Glenn Reynolds is against gun control, in the event of a shootout he’ll just download his consciousness into a new robot form.

  16. Manta1976 says:

    Why do you waste time mocking Reynolds? You are only giving him free publicity.
    It may have been a useful thing to do a few years back, when the internet was young and people did read him, but who nowadays who does?

    • SEK says:

      Everyone to your right.

    • DrDick says:

      Why not? There are several reasons to ridicule Reynolds: a) he is a distinguished professor of constitutional law at a state university; b) he is representative of a wide swath of the rightwing commentariot; c) he is quite well known and widely read among conservatives. As a general rule, ludicrous bullshit like this tends to become “conventional wisdom” if not attacked and ridiculed immediately.

      • Manta1976 says:

        I was doubting the c) part: without it SEK’s post becomes an exercise in mocking the town loon.

        But I will take your (and SEK’s) word, and revisit my appraisal of Reynolds (from “hateful guy that nobody reads” to “hateful guy that people do read”).

  17. actor212 says:

    That there is some Zen hatred on the part of Ole Perfesser Mr Mrs Dr. Reynolds.

  18. SEK says:

    Weigel thinks this is “pretty vicious.” A shame, that is, as I was going for “ugly.”

  19. Anonymous says:

    Jay Carney weighs in on Glenn Reynolds’ side:

    White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama’s view is that “we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them with existing law.”

  20. The Malfunctioning Glenn Reynolds Robot says:

    Heh. Indeed. More bad news for Obama. Read the whole thing. Heh. Indeed. More bad news for Obama. Read the whole thing. Heh. Indeed. More bad news for Obama. Read the whole thing. Heh. Indeed. More bad news for Obama. Read the whole thing. Heh. Indeed. More bad news for Obama. Read the whole thing. Heh. Indeed. More bad news for Obama. Read the whole thing. Heh. Indeed. More bad news for Obama. Read the whole thing. Heh. Indeed. More bad news for Obama. Read the whole thing. Heh. Indeed. More bad news for Obama. Read the whole thing. Heh. Indeed. More bad news for Obama. Read the whole thing. Heh. Indeed. More bad news for Obama. Read the whole thing.

  21. [...] (typeof(addthis_share) == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}I understand why you’re reluctant to identify Wade Michael Page as a white supremacist, but I’m an expert in visual rhetoric [...]

  22. [...] Glenn Reynolds demonstrates how to avoid politicizing a tragedy – Lawyers, Guns & Money : … [...]

Leave a Reply




If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a Gravatar.

  • Switch to our mobile site