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Sunday
Jul312011

People Who Think Like That Should Not Be Allowed to Speak on Our Air?

Sheryl: I received an email action to sign a petition calling on MSNBC to fire Pat Buchanan for his recent article in The American Conservative regarding the Norway massacre. I had heard several snippets about Buchanan’s comments, but I hadn't really paid close attention to the particulars. The petition made me think of Nichole’s article about free speech and the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Westboro Baptist Church case.  After reading the articleand yes, it is a classic case of Buchanan xenophobiaI am not sure if I am going to sign the petition. What is the point of having him fired? What will it accomplish (aside from him being fired)? Buchanan is often a featured voice on a number of the MSNBC shows that I watch, and I have heard him make despicable comments on a number of different occasions. In a 2009 appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show regarding the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, he stated that she was an “affirmative action appointment”  and  the U.S. was “a country built basically by white folks,” and those are just two of the many offensive statements that he made in that one appearance (the offenses start at 5:55).

I remember having similar questions when Don Imus made his infamous remarks about the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team back in 2007. I was extremely angry about his comments, which were supposedly made in jest. I can’t recall if I signed any of the petitions circulated at the time which called for his firing. Even with my doubts, I probably did.

Lydia: I haven't read the petition. Is there a statement as to why he should be fired over this article specifically, in the petition? I can understand wanting MSNBC to take a stand against certain kinds of speech, especially if it's said on an MSNBC show. However, that doesn't encourage dialogue. Buchanan isn't known for constructively engaging in dialogue, but his statements could encourage dialogue among others and let's be honest, there are plenty of people that think along the same line as Buchanan. By shutting him down I think that turns off his audience instead of including them in the conversation and perhaps helping them see some issues in a different light.

Sheryl: In the petition, the argument seems to be that because MSNBC is positioning itself as a progressive alternative to Fox, it should not provide Buchanan with a platform to air his views. As you point out Lydia, he didn't make these statements on an MSNBC show; but even if he did, is calling for his firing the way to go? Perhaps I am getting lost in my own thinking, but what makes spewing crap on MSNBC different from spewing crap at the funerals of fallen soldiers?

Lydia: But isn't a cemetery considered a public place? The executives at MSNBC can decide who they have on their shows, and if they think the way their commentators behave or what they say is damaging to their (MSNBC's) image, then they have the right to fire those people. Whether or not they should.... I'm obviously no legal eagle, but this seems like a public/private issue. You can be at a funeral or in another public space spewing hate and have the right to do so but, if you do the same in an individual's home, they have every right to kick your ignorant behind out of their house.

Nichole: I see where you both are going. The essential question is how do we nurture political dialogue regarding serious issues without giving credence to left or right extremism? Paul Krugman argues that our public conversation has become so warped because the "liberal" or "mainstream" media refuses to call out the dysfunction caused by Republican extremists. Instead, they focus on "balanced" reporting, instead of nuanced analysis. The problem, as Lydia suggests, is that media is profit-driven and MSNBC wants to, in fact needs to, figure out ways to generate income. Those ways might include bringing in a lightning rod like Buchanan. And this is why I think Sheryl concludes that it doesn't make much sense to fire Buchanan. We can't keep ourselves in a bubble and not hear competing positions, even if it is sometimes physically impossible to listen because the venom is so visceral. Ultimately it may be that there is no difference between spewing crap on cable tv and spewing crap at the funerals of fallen soldiers because both are taking place in the marketplace of ideas. How much will it cost MSNBC to keep Buchanan? Probably not a lot if keeping him means that new viewers tune in. 

Sheryl: Yes, as much as I want to change the channel when Buchanan starts to spout some of his right-wing conservative nonsense, I try to sit it out because I think it is important for me to engage "in the marketplace of ideas" that you refer to Nichole and not wall myself off from those views that conflict with mine. Watching Morning Joe, which is a more right leaning MSNBC show, is usually a mostly aggravating experience, but I don't think the network should remove the show from the lineup to try to make itself into the Fox News of the left. I may not support having Buchanan completely removed from the network, but I also don't think he should be given a bigger platform on MSNBC. Right-wing extremists have hijacked the political dialogue via Fox News and the largely impotent mainstream media that Paul Krugman describes in his op-ed, so I understand why some on the left would want to have Buchanan removed and try to make MSNBC into the liberal stronghold.

Perhaps devoting a significant block of time to a show like Morning Joe and featuring Buchanan and other conservatives as MSNBC pundits while continuing to focus on highlighting left-wing perspectives on the issues is the most effective way to move toward a political discourse that is capable of addressing serious issues. If MSNBC is providing a way forward for the political discourse in this country, albeit inadvertently, then we clearly have a long way to go. 

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