Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On Not Being a Passive Observer

This morning Linda Milazzo used the bully pulpit of her blog post on The Huffington Post to call out an indignity that should not go unnoticed:

On Friday's Larry King Live show, Republican strategist and owner of The Polling Company, KellyAnne Conway, stated that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were

"arguing about whether she should let him sit on the back of the bus of her presidential ticket."

Even by CNN standards, with its ample chicanery and spin, Conway's remark was brutal. Larry King's nightly program, usually more schmooze than news, was plunged to a Limbaugh-like low.

Milazzo then made note of how Obama supporter, Jamal Simmons, who was also on the program, immediately challenged Conway without sacrificing the moral high ground; but, from my point of view, the more important aspect of her account had to do with King's relative passivity in the face of such offensive linguistic manipulation:

Larry King was clearly disturbed by Conway's 'back of the bus' assault. He asked her if she had actually used the term and what she had meant when she used it. But King's simple question was not a true rebuke. Conway's racism deserved a strong on air condemnation from the host -- not the off-camera chiding that was likely to come. At 74 years old, Larry King should have witnessed the inhumanity and disgrace of Jim Crow throughout his youth and adult years. There was institutionalized racism in Larry King's native New York, and in Florida where he worked early on. White Americans weren't blind to the injustice. They just didn't suffer its pain -- at least not directly.

Actually, King is of an age that should have witnessed enough anti-Semitism to match the level of prevailing racism and may well have experienced it rather than just witnessing it. This would add fuel to Milazzo's fire against his passivity.

Unfortunately, her idea of an active response in this case leaves a bit to be desired:

If you are disturbed and appalled by KellyAnne Conway's racist tactics, please let CNN know. Racism, particularly on the public airwaves, must not be permitted to occur. Call the CNN comments line at: (404) 827-1500 or click here to e-mail the Larry King Live show.

Without trying to sound either defeatist or futilitarian, I have to say that the idea of employing the "usual feedback channels" to either Larry King Live or all of CNN reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Walt Kelly's Pogo: "I'd write a nasty letter to the mayor if he could only read!" Milazzo's strategy is unlikely to lead to anything more than a gratuitous thank-you letter. The only way to protest is in the marketplace. In this case the way to do that would be through a mass boycott of King's program. This would quickly devalue the slots for commercials in his program, and that is the only language that CNN executives understand! (Needless to say, if you can pull that off, think of what you could do for those other CNN broadcasters who claim to offer something more substantive than the sort of schmoozing that draws audiences to King!)


Anonymous said...

Coming from a country other than the USA I did not take her remark about 'the back of the bus' as a racist remark. I watched the program as Kelly Anne Conway tried to defend herself by basically saying she had been misunderstood and was referring to the vice presidency. I was at the time curious why it seemed such a big deal. Having now read your post and reminded myself about recent U.S. history I see why her comment may have caused offense. As a foreigner I have found myself often using terms of phrase that I later found meant something completely different in the U.S. and opened myself up to ridicule or aggression because of it.
I hope political correctness does not cause this country to end up having lifeless discussions with people afraid to say anything that might be even slightly misconstrued.

Net News Publisher

Linda Milazzo said...

Mr. Smoliar....
You've suggested a marketplace methodology to boycott Larry King Live. Are you taking it upon yourself to lead the way -- or are you merely using your comments to ask others to do the work?

If you believe you can energize the activist community to boycott Larry King Live, then lead the way. Otherwise you're merely using your comment to dampen the simpler and more possible exercise of contacting the show and voicing opinion. Whether or not you choose to believe it, media does listen to criticism when they hear enough of it.

There are way too many like you, Mr. Smoliar, who ask others to undertake campaigns that require organization and leadership -- who never do the leading and organizing themselves.

So, I ask you, Mr. Smoliar -- are you volunteering to lead the way in the boycott you champion by formulating a campaign to make it happen -- by spreading the word and engaging the activist community to follow your lead? Or did you make your comment and just go about your day?

One further point -- Since the campaign you encourage takes an enormous amount of work and collaboration -- why not put your effort toward more egregious culprits than Larry King Live? In this case, the Larry King show featured an inflammatory bigot in the form of KellyAnne Conway. However, King, himself, although he wasn't pro-active in addressing her racism, is benign compared to culprits like Lou Dobbs, Chris Matthews, Glenn Beck, every face on FOX and conservative radio hate spewers like Limbaugh, et al.

I suggest to you, Mr. Smoliar that you use your campaign to go after them rather than Larry King who is in no way a hate monger himself. However, Mr. Smoliar, something tells me you won't be undertaking a commitment to lead the way in the efforts you encourage. Talk is easy. Work is hard.

Rather than discouraging the phone calls and emails I suggest, why not take the time to do those simple tasks yourself? They will accomplish more than the campaign you are not likely to personally make happen.