Entry from March 31, 2011

More than a few conservative scribes have spotted the item by Jennifer Steinhauer in The Caucus blog of The New York Times the other day about an open mike slip by Democratic senators. Led by Senator Schumer of New York, they were being instructed in advance of a conference call with reporters, to refer to everything proposed by Republicans with the epithet “extreme” or its derivatives, but the reporters overheard them. The first remarkable thing about this was that, although the senators knew they had been overheard in their rhetorical strategizing, they all shamelessly stuck to the script anyway. Presumably they knew that even if the media reported their gambit as a gambit, it would not be played up or allowed to diminish the force of the epithet. The second remarkable thing was that they were right, and that the media had no objection to make to the use being made of them. Miss Steinhauer treated the whole thing as a bit of joke and ended her brief report with the words: “How news is made . . .”

She wrote truer than she knew, for “news” nowadays, particularly political news, is at least 50 per cent manipulation of the media — who are mostly glad to be manipulated because it increases the drama and therefore the interest of their stories — to 50 per cent reporting. Sometimes the ratio of manipulation to reporting is much higher than that. Take, for instance, the controversy over the vulgarisms used by Bill Maher to describe, first, Sarah Palin and then Michelle Bachman. Obviously these four-letter words, the one beginning with t and the other beginning with c, were only said in the first place to court controversy. The timing was particularly artful: first, the t-word, the less obscene of the two, and then, in response to the inevitable controversy generated by it, the c-bomb. Headline news: “Maher doubles down!”

Whatever you think of Governor Palin, the one thing that was patently untrue about what Mr Maher said was that “there’s just no other word for her.” There are lots of other words for her, whether you like her or hate her, but none of the other ones would attract the media’s attention to the degree that these two do. The media must have known that as well as I do. But the inflammatory nature of the insult obscured the central question of what it could be based on. Mr Maher doesn’t know Governor Palin personally and so can hardly be referring to her character, nor (so far as I know) has she injured him personally in such a way as to call forth such a vile retribution. True, her political opinions are at variance with his, but that is also true of the roughly 40 per cent of the country who call themselves conservatives. They can’t all be — that word — can they? Or, if they are, he does not refer to them as such.

The epithet depends for its force on the fact that it describes something specially if not uniquely contemptible in a “transgressive” way. That is, Mr Maher is able to call attention to himself and his own naughtiness by expressing his contempt with words that derive from a particular sort of affected macho contempt for half the human race. Once such behavior would have shamed him, among men as well as women, but now it is only “edgy.” Thus, it called forth only the mildest of reproofs from the NOW crowd, who obviously didn’t feel that they could remain uninvolved however much they would have preferred to do so. According to the Daily Caller, Lisa Bennett, the NOW communications director, thought Mr Maher’s violation of a social norm that in other circumstances might have been expected to be specially precious to her organization worth a blog post, writing the following exhortation: “Listen, supposedly progressive men (ok, and women, too): Cut the crap! Stop degrading women with whom you disagree and/or don’t like by using female body terms or other gender-associated slurs.” Yet even this was qualified by implicitly blaming Mrs Palin herself and her fellow conservatives when Ms Bennett issued a warning that “We are on to you, right-wingers.”

You’re trying to take up our time getting us to defend your friend Sarah Palin. If you keep us busy defending her, we have less time to defend women’s bodies from the onslaught of reproductive rights attacks and other threats to our freedom, safety, livelihood, etc. . .Sorry, but we can’t defend Palin or even Hillary Clinton from every sexist insult hurled at them in the media. That task would be impossible, and it would consume us. You know this would not be a productive way to fight for women’s equal rights, which is why you want us stuck in this morass.

And so the slur was allowed to stand, the political struggle it was meant to further continued — just as the Democrats’ campaign against “extremism” did — and the media had another story. That they never seem to take umbrage at being used and manipulated in this way, that they never feel that their honor has been impugned by such contemptuous treatment so long as they are making copy and therefore money out of it, suggests another derogatory term for a woman that might be applied to the media, this one beginning with a w.

Discover more from James Bowman

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Similar Posts