Behaving Badly on TV

Expanding my reach and audience of this blog has been one of my central focuses these last couple of months.  To rehash, in late December I had my first radio spot on The Schilling Show.  For readers of The Daily News Record, another of my pieces appears in the opinion section of Monday’s newspaper.  But what about television?  With the exception of a brief segment during the 2006 campaign, I’ve never been on TV.  Therefore, I decided that I should take the time to learn more about this medium.

This most recent Friday, January 14, I drove up to Arlington to participate in one of The Leadership Institute’s training sessions.  This particular one was called “Television Workshop, On-camera”.  Unfortunately, due to the more or less complete urbanization of Arlington, parking was proving to be a bit of a challenge until the folks at LI directed me to a public parking garage.  All in all, the workshop lasted a little over three hours.  We did cover quite a bit of material including: what to wear, how to present yourself, and what to say.  I’m not going to address those topics here.  If you want to learn more about those issues, I would highly recommend attending the workshop yourself.

What I do want to talk about, however, is the tone they recommend adopting for TV.  I can only describe the attitude as the worst aspects of political television.  If asked a question that you don’t care to answer, simply steer the conversation in a different direction or ignore the point entirely.  When you debate one or more people, you don’t have to wait your turn to speak.  Just interrupt the other person whenever you feel you can get away with it.   Civility is overrated and can even be a hindrance.  The rules are simple; whoever gets in the most words, and thus the most airtime, wins.

Now whom should we blame for these displays which are quite frankly disrespectful and childish?  I believe it rests primarily with the host or interviewer of the program.  A good host can keep his or her guests in line and on topic.  A poor host doesn’t restrain his or her guests, or, worse yet, treats them with open contempt.  Upon further reflection, there is a strong comparison between the host of a political program and an elementary school teacher.  A worthy host or teacher must be both a taskmaster and disciplinarian, motivated and fair.  If you allow your guests or students to be disrespectful or constantly wander off topic, then no one will learn anything of value.

Of course, these days political TV is not really about education, but instead shouting trivial and meaningless talking points.  The market and the audience have become oversaturated with emotion and devoid of facts.  Without a meaningful exchange of ideas, the American public treats politics as fairly irrelevant.  It is merely another form of entertainment to be spoofed on Comedy Central and Saturday Night Live.  Therefore, we must reject the concept of no holds barred political television.  It is detrimental to our political health and weakens the fabric of society.

In closing, I encourage you to explore the wealth of training options available at The Leadership Institute.  My first experience with their learning opportunities was excellent and last week’s was quite good as well.  I just take exception to one particular technique that they suggested.  Although rudeness and political demagoguery is all the rage on TV these days, that doesn’t mean we should follow down this well-worn path.  I know that I won’t.  If that means I’ll never be successful in the medium, at least I can hold my head high knowing that I didn’t help trash the American experiment for a quick buck and to further my own selfish ambitions.

Worse Than Ignorance

We live in strange times, at least from a political perspective.  On one hand, we have a massive federal government that seeks to dominate the states and the citizens regardless of any supposed restrictions set forth by the Constitution.  Deficits and spending are recklessly multiplied ensuring the economic slavery of future generations.  But on the other side of things, states are beginning to reassert their power through rejection of nationalized health care, sovereignty resolutions, and the push for nullification.  More and more ordinary American citizens are starting to take a keen interest into both domestic and foreign policies.  For far too long, politicians assumed that the indifferent silence of the average voter equated to tacit consent of beltway policies.  And all the while, conservative and liberal pundits temper the news with their particular brand of spin.

Obviously we all have to get our political news from some source or another.  Ideally, the well-rounded person will have several avenues of information.  Regrettably, some folks are content to rely on a single pundit.  Now don’t get me wrong, there many good commentators out there.  Unfortunately, a great many of them do not advance political dialogue, but hinder it instead.  They treat politics like a kindergarten argument where the person who is the loudest, most disagreeable, interrupts constantly, and hurls the cruelest insults is considered the winner.  You cannot refute this kind of pundit without being declared stupid, brainless, or otherwise mentally incapacitated.  These kinds of antics strip politics of any sort of dignity and warp it to be more like an unpredictable circus comparable to the Jerry Springer show.

Don’t think that either the right or the left holds a monopoly on civility; both conservatives and liberals are guilty of dumbing down and stifling discourse.  Talk show hosts on the television and the radio, bloggers, writers, and even politicians can all fall prey to this sort of rubbish.  Oh, you’re just a “libtard”, a “teabagger”, or a “nutjob”.  Therefore, we can’t trust your opinions on any issue and your thoughts are equally worthless.  They don’t confront and refute contrary opinions, but rather attack their opponent’s credibility and basic human decency.  Ultimately, I believe these tactics display the shortcomings of the argument of those who employ them because it shows that their own evidence is weak, exhausted, or likely both.  Their listeners, watchers, or readers are no more enlightened than they were prior to reading their rude drivel, but instead falsely empowered with the worst aspects of political rhetoric.  Although a few people may claim otherwise, I try to hold my writing and this blog to a higher standard.

In the first few pages of his First Discourse, Jean-Jacques Rousseau laments the earlier understanding of mankind.  “A nondescript scientific jargon, even more despicable than ignorance, had usurped the name of knowledge, and opposed an almost invincible obstacle to its return.  A revolution was needed to bring men back to common sense”.  Today, some residents fill their heads solely with the vulgar prattling of some pundit or other, holding their petty rudeness as sacrosanct as the writings of the prophets of old.  This advice may sound strange coming from an unapologetic conservative, but I encourage you to listen to the words of conservatives, liberals, libertarians, and statists alike.  Of course, you do not have to agree with them all (and obviously you cannot for their ideologies are diametrically opposed).  Nevertheless, in order to be good citizens and also informed, we must explore and discuss thoughts contrary to our own.  By doing so, we increase our political intelligence and bolster our beliefs without denying the right of others to disagree.  We must avoid the common pundit’s snare of propagating a political environment devoid of rationality and proof, but one that is rich in slander and childishness.  If we fail to do so, then we will never escape our current state of discourse that, for many, is even worse than ignorance.