Civility 2007


A society relearning how to behave

    Free speech is enhanced by civility.
                — Tim O’Reilly,
                who recently proposed a
                “Bloggers Code of Conduct”

Here’s what David Brooks of The New York Times, a writer I usually respect highly, had to say in defense of the fact that he, and others I admire, had been an enabler of trash over the years:

    “You know, most of us who are pundits are dweebs at some level. And he was the cool bad boy in the back of the room. And so, if you’re mostly doing serious punditry, you’d like to think you can horse around with a guy like Imus.”

    ImusPerhaps, having been the sort who sat in the back of the class and created distractions while the dweebs were grinding away trying to get into Harvard, I don’t have that deep-seated need. I got it out of
my system. Some of it, anyway. Enough that I don’t need to match “wits” with anyone who makes a living off suckers who tune in to see how creatively he can trash other people.
    But the weakness of Mr. Brooks and others caused media critic Philip Nobile, who once authored something called “Imus Watch” on, to observe that “Imus had made cowards and hypocrites of some of the best minds in America. I hope they do penance….”
    I’m not proposing to add to the already-considerable body of commentary on the downfall of an infamous loudmouth. I’d rather reflect today on a culture that would make such a pathological creature marketable.
    I mean a culture that holds its breath to find out which “man” among multiple possibilities fathered the child of a dead former stripper — not whispering about it among the guys at the bar, but treating itImus5
as mainstream, matter-of-fact fodder for polite conversation in front of the kids.
    I’m talking about “reality” shows peopled by sad morons whose every utterance contains something that, even today, gets bleeped — not because the producers are sensitive or think that you are, but because the jarring “bleeps” themselves, audible from any room in the house, make content that would bore a brain-damaged goldfish seem titillating. Ooh, that must have been a good one, we’re supposed to burble.
    I’m referring here to a political marketplace in which most participants long ago ceased to listen in order to reach practical consensus with those who disagree, preferring to gather into ideological tribes that huddle in the darkness, patting each other on the back for the rocks they heave at that other tribe, the “enemy” who will always lack legitimacy.
    In other words, this is a happy upbeat, “good news” sort of column. I thought you could use that to cheer you up on this fine April morning (disregarding the thunderstorms forecast as I write this.)
    Really. There is good news out there. In fact, we may even be seeing a trend. I once worked with a labor-averse assistant metro editor who loved to see news repeat itself to the point that he could say: “That’s twice that’s happened. One more time, and we can call it a trend and send it to ‘Lifestyles’.”
Jerry, this one’s almost ready to go to the Features Department.
    A few months back, I boldly asserted in this space that “Standards are making a comeback. We may be able to get a civilization going here after all.” As evidence, I cited the facts that Rupert Murdoch himself had just canceled plans to publish a book by O.J. Simpson giving the details of how he “didn’t” kill his wife; the Michael “Kramer” Richards apology; and a column in The New York Times by a doctor bemoaning the low-cut tops and miniskirts worn by some of her younger colleagues. (Yes, that last one was weak, but I enjoyed the pictures. And it was a legitimate trend, because it was in a feature section.)
    Well, the trend continues. The Imus dismissal, although it came decades too late, was yet another positive sign. This jaded society of ours got up on its hind legs once again and said “enough.”
    The best, the very choicest thing I saw last week containing the word “Imus” was a column in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, which began, “And so it came to pass in the year 2007 that a little platoon came forth to say unto the world: Enough is enough.” There I read once again about a new phenomenon, known as the “Blogger’s Code of Conduct,” that in draft form begins:   

We celebrate the blogosphere because it embraces frank and open conversation. But frankness does not have to mean lack of civility.

    Those who read all my hand-wringing last year about the nasty trolls on my blog will know why such a statement, and such a code, would appeal to me. I’m farther along in my quest for civility now. I don’t wring my poor, dry digits so much any more; I just take action. I banned another of my more unruly correspondents on Friday.
    You polite souls who stay out of that forum (you who tell me, “I read it, but I don’t leave comments”) for fear of being abused, fear not. I don’t think the bad boys are the least bit cool, and I won’t let them pick on you.
    This is all good news — a good trend. Come to and read all about it, before it gets shoved to Lifestyles.


17 thoughts on “Civility 2007

  1. Randy E

    Why are we here? Put simply, many of us believe we are approaching a critical moment in our society — a moment that will determine the shape of our social and political future for many decades to come. The Penn National Commission on Society, Culture and Community
    Indeed, incivility has become a routine subject in our popular entertainments…recent poll, eighty-nine percent think incivility is a serious problem.
    This kind of unrestrained warfare has now become the daily fabric of our politics–on both ends of the spectrum…sudden eruption of pledges to “work together”…We can only speculate about how long this new “era of good feeling”
    this excerpt from Don Imus’s talk-radio program goes light years beyond the slogan “Ma, ma, where’s my pa?” used against the bachelor-candidate Grover Cleveland in the presidential campaign of 1884: [MSNBC video excerpt from the Don Imus program.]
    U.S. News has put incivility on its cover and asks “whatever happened to good manners?” The right calls for a return to “civic virtues,” and the left tells us that “it takes a village.”
    This report is from 1996.

  2. Mike Cakora

    Nice try, Brad, but by banning commenters you’ve proved that you’re part of the problem. Before I saw the light,
    I too would complain about the abuse I suffered at the hands of the unruly trolls who populate the netherworld of blogs like yours.
    But I now understand that you and others — Brooks, Tim O’Reilly — we are keeping a list — want to hide the corruption and deceit of the Bush Administration by asserting that you are simply for civility. Yet you thought police — that’s what you really are, no? — are after more, the closing of America’s to the truth.
    How do I know this? The truth has told me; “truth” in Russian is “pravda” and Pravda spilled the beans on Friday with this report:

    US War Leaders this past week launched an unprecedented attack upon one of their most politically ‘connected’, and legendary, radio hosts named Don Imus after his threats to release information relating to the September 11, 2001 attacks upon that country.
    According to European reports of the events surrounding Don Imus that have gripped the United States this past week, it was during an interview with another American media personality, Tim Russert, who is the host of a television programme frequently used by US War Leaders, wherein while decrying the state of care being given to American War wounded stated, “So those bastards want to keep these boys [in reference to US Soldiers] secret? Let’s see how they like it if I start talking about their [in reference to US War Leaders] secrets, starting with 9/11.”

    You clearly are a “US War Leader,” and your thinly veiled attempt to pull the babushka over our eyes has failed. Silencing Imus had nothing to do with civility or the coarseness of our bleeping public discourse, but with the effort to conceal the truth from the American public.

  3. Michael Gass

    Mr. Warthen,
    I can agree that people like Imus, who wish to use speech filled with malicious, racist intent, should be off of the airwaves and out of America’s discourse.
    But, I am disappointed in you.
    I have yet to see a Republican speak out against Malkin, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, and the rest of the right-wing sludge who were the ones that perfected hate-speech over the airwaves.
    Civility is a noble goal.
    Equality is the only way to achieve it.

  4. Michael Gass

    Mr. Warthen,
    Oh, I check The State daily, and have even started checking the blogs (as you see), to see what issues are being discussed.
    I do enjoy discussing some of the topics presented, though it seems at times we are on other sides of the issues. And while it may seem I am adversarial, it merely is trying to balance opinions.
    John Jay, Federalist Papers #1-4 speaks very clearly about partisanship… I am inclined to defer to his greater wisdom.

  5. Brad Warthen

    I just did, Michael. This piece was about trash culture in general. But at the same time, I was criticizing partisan thinking of the sort you’re engaging in here — saying, but what about THOSE people over there that MY side doesn’t like?
    I don’t know anything about this Malkin or O’Reilly, because I don’t swim those polluted waters. I don’t watch cable tv, or tv “news” for that matter. But as for Limbaugh, it would be fine by me if he disappeared from the airwaves tomorrow. Not because of censorship, but because the marketplace decided they no longer had any appetite for listening to him, or Imus, or Al Franken, or James Carville, or Grover Norquist, or Ann Coulter, or any of the other spiteful creatures who poison our politics, from inside the system and from without. I wish no one would listen to any of them, and we’d all be better off.
    I particularly wish the president wouldn’t listen to Karl Rove.
    Anyone who reads the paper regularly knows all of this about me. Anyone who misses such things is either not reading, or is reading very selectively, hearing only what his or her partisan filter lets through. And THAT is the thing we’re fighting against here.

  6. Michael Gass

    Mr. Warthen,
    I would like, if I may, to quote a few passages as I respond:
    “A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose. To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives. An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government will be stigmatized as the offspring of a temper fond of despotic power and hostile to the principles of liberty. An over-scrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people, which is more commonly the fault of the head than of the heart, will be represented as mere pretense and artifice, the stale bait for popularity at the expense of the public good.”
    This is from Federalist #1. How things change, do they also stay the same. I like to think I am, at the least, fair, considering every opinion even if I disagree. The newspaper, even in earliest of times, and today the television and radio shows, have always been a vehicle for those wish to push an opinion:
    “It is not yet forgotten that well-grounded apprehensions of imminent danger induced the people of America to form the memorable Congress of 1774. That body recommended certain measures to their constituents, and the event proved their wisdom; yet it is fresh in our memories how soon the press began to teem with pamphlets and weekly papers against those very measures. Not only many of the officers of government, who obeyed the dictates of personal interest, but others, from a mistaken estimate of consequences, or the undue influence of former attachments, or whose ambition aimed at objects which did not correspond with the public good, were indefatigable in their efforts to pursuade the people to reject the advice of that patriotic Congress. Many, indeed, were deceived and deluded, but the great majority of the people reasoned and decided judiciously; and happy they are in reflecting that they did so.”
    The words and ideas pressed to the public through print and media are powerful tools, they always have been, with the power to deceive and incite. But, I am humble enough to remember these words from Federalist #3:
    “The pride of states, as well as of men, naturally disposes them to justify all their actions, and opposes their acknowledging, correcting, or repairing their errors and offenses.”
    If I have misread your intentions or thoughts, then I do apologize. It is not, nor has it been, my intent misread, or in doing so to give the perception my words are an attack. But I submit, maybe if the thoughts expressed were more focused and detailed, a misreading wouldn’t occur.
    It is easy to say “those people”, but I submit that when you are doing surgery to remove a cancer, you do not swing your scalpel in wide arcs at everything – you go straight to where it needs to be.

  7. Mike Cakora

    Thanks. Of course, I was only honking your goose. I’ll have more to add later, but right now I’m off to the gun show at Jamil Temple.
    Will I see you there?

  8. Brad Warthen

    Are they really having a gun show? I’ve always wanted to go to one of those at the fairgrounds, but never made it. Is that the Shriners place on the access road along I-26?

  9. Randy E

    This is from Federalist #1. How things change, do they also stay the same. – Michael Gass
    How true – look at the excerpts from the UPenn report in 1996. You can change the date and publish this report as commentary on today’s society.
    I’ve heard the Imus issue is good for the country because it opens dialogue on race (and civility in general). One pundit (actually a comedian) questioned whether this was a new dialogue on race or a carry over from the Katrina inspired dialogue on race.
    The point is we’ve crossed this bridge a few times. At least it’s not Hamiltion-Burr, or Andrew Jackson or even Lincoln using duels to settle a dispute. And it’s not like the KKK lynchings in the 20s nor the firebombings in the 60s.

  10. Mike Cakora

    Back from the gun show. Yup, it was at Jamil Temple off I-26 between St. Andrews road and Piney Grove.
    It was fun. They set up tables in rows where collectors and dealers stack their wares: handguns, long guns, knives, ammunition, flashlights, holsters, shoes, clothing, the whole, er, shooting match. New, used, they have it.
    Attendees may not carry concealed weapons but may carry rifles and handguns unloaded openly. A guy at the front door applies a cable tie so that the gun can’t be loaded. I talked to one guy who bought a rifle at one table, then traded it in on another rifle at another table. An off-duty sheriff’s deputy had great deals on several used guns in great shape; he just walked in with a rifle and several pistols hanging off him waiting for folks to ask a price.
    Prices vary but are generally pretty good. Most folks are pretty knowledgeable and can answer your questions. I tend to deal with one local place in town that’s pretty well stocked, but it pays to see what the competition offers.
    The Internet has opened up gun trading by giving a better picture of supply and demand. Both dealers and collectors at the show mentioned that the whole market has gotten a lot more competitive. But there’s nothing like handling the weapons, especially collectors’ items, to get a sense of what affects the price and value.
    A friend saw and snapped up a Stag Arms AR15 lefty version; it’s a mirror image that allows left-handed shooters to avoid getting ejected brass down the collar or in the face, a definite plus in my book. With only a couple of hours until the show’s end he was able to get a durn fine price on the rifle and an Eotech scope and cover.
    With instacheck purchasing a gun is fast and easy.
    Tell you what, when the next show comes to town we’ll set up a tour for The State’s editorial staff so that First Amendmenters can interact civilly with the Second Amendmenters. We could even get some handguns for you all to hang on your bodies so that you feel at home!

  11. Michael Gass

    Randy E,
    Yes, but what was it Imus said that “pushed the line”? It was a racially charged remark.
    How many have actually gone after pundits for speech that is much more inciting of violence and hatred?
    Take Glenn Beck who said: ” I didn’t think I could hate victims faster than the 9-11 victims.”
    KSFO’s Melanie Morgan who said that liberals should be executed.
    Those are only two examples, but there are literally hundreds more…
    What got Imus was he said something RACIALLY offensive. The speech of the Coulter’s, Limbaugh’s, O’Reilly’s, Morgan’s, and Beck’s are much more violent, yet, who is calling for their ousting?
    If you truly think about it… what type of person calls for the mass execution of an entire segment of a population? Think on that…

  12. Randy E

    Imus’ attack was specific and representative of a current of hate that has been a major issue in this country. It was palpable and realistic, contrary to calling for mass execution. It hit close to home.
    I had an African-American USC student who is the mother of a middle school girl. The mother shared that her girl was called the N word at school. I don’t know how many of us feel the threat of violence such as mass execution in our daily lives. One day Coulter and Rush will get theirs.
    BTW, tonight 60 Minutes repeated part of the report they did on Imus 10 years ago. In the report, he admitted to telling his producer (who’s still with him) that the reason Imus’ side-kick is there was to tell N—— jokes. At first Imus said he never used that word. His producer affirmed that he had and Imus said “oh, I guess I did”.

  13. Michael Gass

    Randy E,
    “I don’t know how many of us feel the threat of violence such as mass execution in our daily lives.”
    I do. Just look at how many abortion clinics were bombed over the years since the ’80’s… all in response to right-wing hate-mongers rhetoric against abortion.

  14. Randy E

    I didn’t want to bury this on thread that was too old, but I think this is a very important article from The State.
    Brad, can we fire up another thread on this?
    Uphill battle ahead for Allendale schools
    This is an excellent article regarding the debate about poor rural counties.

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