Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Freedom of Speech

I met, so to speak, Anthony Maschek, early yesterday morning when, Lowell, as part of a Facebook 'news feed' offered a post about Maschek's interaction with fellow Columbia University students up on the mean streets of Morningside Heights. In another life, for both of us, I worked with Floyd, who is an alum of the Columbia School of Journalism, so I have a high regard for their students and their program. The story Lowell shared wasn't pleasant and the outcome is less so but what I'm mostly concerned about is what all of it says about all of us.

Disclaimer: If you hadn't already figured it out (and if you've read these ditherings more than once in the last two and half years, you should have) I don't have much use for Ideology (capital letter deliberate) and see myself as a relentless pragmatist, politically. Left and Right are useful when reading a map, but not for creating consensus to govern. You're more than welcome to feel differently, but don't waste my time doing it around me.

Why tell you that? Because as distressing as the story on its face, is, (and there's something 'off' about it, imho; I'm just not sure what) of more concern to me and underlining the growing divide in our culture along 'red' and 'blue' lines, is who, per Google, was following this story.

I ran a search on this story @0846 EST yesterday (numbers now are vastly different and your mileage may vary) that showed 28 entries, to include the source (NY Post), Huffington Post, right of center think tank blogs and just about all the Fox hyper local news sites. My larger point is very few others and none of what the Princess of Wasilla calls 'lamestream media' were covering this.

Detour to explain why my Spidey-senses are tingling: the NY Post article that's the original source of all of this tumult was published on Sunday about an event, an on-campus student forum, that happened the previous Tuesday, the 15th of February. Between the date of the forum and the published account in the NY Post, no one on earth (seemingly) reported anything about any of this to include the Columbia Spectator (you can catch up here now). Yeah, I suppose that is actually possible, but I just don't think it's probable.

Here's what worries me as my turn to ride the ice floe out into the ocean approaches: I've always thought of news as recounting, without bias or blinking, a chronology of events, without ideological flavor or pretense, though I suppose from CBS News and the Selling of the Pentagon onwards, that's become less and less the case until now, under the guise of advocacy journalism, we have talking heads of every flavor pontificating on plasma screens from sea to shining sea.

This is a story that reflects badly on everyone in the information business, to include those of us who see ourselves as consumers rather than participants or producers. The behavior reported in the original report is abhorrent and should cause us to be ashamed of ourselves and of each other.

However, let me offer a thought to Columbia University and other high-minded and high-handed nose in the air institutions unhappy at placing Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs on your campus: I'd respect you a LOT more if you'd also renounce the hundreds of millions, running into billions, of dollars of research grants you willingly accept from the same Department of Defense whose ROTC programs you find so odious. And yeah, that has a lot to do with my intense intolerance of those who live by situational ethics and who pretend they don't.

If you wondered where Anthony Maschek got inspiration for his why-are-you-laughing line (from 1:12 through 1:38 in the audio file) look no further than George Orwell who very cogently explained to those willing to listen the difference between living well and sleeping well. Maybe a quarter century or so too late, his vision of who we really are has been delivered but we may be too blind to see it.
-bill kenny

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