Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

In Which I agree with Thomas Friedman

with one comment

By Wiz

Pigs fly…

Thomas Friedman’s new article discusses the firing of Octavia Nasr for writing a tweet which offered condolences to Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. More interesting, though, than his opinions on the Middle East, was what he wrote about the culture of outrage that led to her firing:

What signal are we sending young people? Trim your sails, be politically correct, don’t say anything that will get you flamed by one constituency or another. And if you ever want a job in government, national journalism or as president of Harvard, play it safe and don’t take any intellectual chances that might offend someone. In the age of Google, when everything you say is forever searchable, the future belongs to those who leave no footprints.

I don’t have much more profound to say than that the rise of the internet and partisan press, has, perversely, contributed to a two-rung level of discourse. On one side are those irresponsible people like me or pundits, who can just spout off about whatever they want (though you’ll notice, even I use a pseudonym). On the other is anyone in the public realm who has to be terrified about saying the wrong thing and getting fired, in one of these predictable rituals of cleansing and shame that happens whenever someone goes over the line. This obviously has a chilling effect on people, especially, no doubt, since jobs in journalism or politics are so competitive these days.

But one weird factor in this is that we almost never hold people accountable for what they do, but only if they say the wrong thing. Friedman hints at this: “A journalist should lose his or her job for misreporting, for misquoting, for fabricating, for plagiarizing, for systemic bias — but not for a message like this one.” Think about the fact that the most negative attention Lawrence Summers ever got was for what he said about female scientists, and not for advocating and implementing policies that caused untold suffering for millions of people (including, one presumes, many women) who have seen their savings wiped away or their homes repossessed because the banking deregulation he championed destroyed our economy. Or Trent Lott could consistently vote against the interests of African-Americans, but as soon as he said something that revealed his racism, he got demoted. Its all very post-modern, where illusion and spectacle dominate.(Not saying that sexist or racist statements are ok, obviously, but that sexist or racist actions are much worse).


Written by Peter Wirzbicki

July 18, 2010 at 19:41

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. I can’t believe I agree with TFrieds too–this is the sort of thinking that resulted in the whole Shirley Sherrod debacle after all.


    July 26, 2010 at 11:20

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