kurt's nightmare

Generally, I post once a week. Topics are randomly selected and depend mostly upon whether it's baseball season or not. Other topics will include sex, politics, old girlfriends, music, and whatever else pops into my little brain. If you'd like to read, or ignore, my blog about China: http://meidabizi.blogspot.com/

Location: Dayton, OH, Heard & McDonald Islands

I'm an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dayton. I represent no one but myself, and barely do that. I'm here mostly by accident.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

O'Reilly and the Daily Kos

First of all, I probably don't have enough time, energy, or space (my physics pals will be happy to provide an equation showing the relationship among these) to do justice to this topic. But a number of my friends (mostly on what, in the US, qualifies as the "left") are unfamiliar with the Daily Kos website, which has been under attack recently by pundit extraordinaire, Bill O'Reilly. I won't go into all the details, but here's the gist:

The Daily Kos is a political blog, with lots and lots of visitors. It is explicitly committed to electing Democrats, preferably of the "progressive" stripe, to office, especially in contrast to their Republican opponents.

They have a convention, which this year invited the Presidential candidates to attend. All the Democrats except Biden--who had, evidently, a scheduling conflict--attended. To the best of my knowledge, the Republican candidates were also invited, but declined.

Bill O'Reilly has argued--repeatedly--that the Daily Kos is (and these are quotes, or nearly so) no different than the Klan, or the Nazis. His subsequent argument seems to be this:

Daily Kos is no different than the Nazis and the Klan.

Nothing different than the Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan do. And yet the Democratic Party chooses to embrace and legitimize this website.

A candidate who appears at their convention is no worse than a candidate appearing at a convention of the Klan or the Nazis (although I believe the standard term for the latter is "rally," as in Nürnberg).

But Republicans have appeared at Bob Jones University. The founder of this institution made a couple of, um, provocative remarks: "I would rather see a saloon on every corner than a Catholic in the White House. I would rather see a nigger as president"; "God is the author of segregation."

O'Reilly didn't really seem to think it was a problem--at least nothing like Daily Kos--when John Ashcroft accepted an honorary degree from Bob Jones University. Rather:

I spoke with Bob Jones III last week, and the interracial dating ban was still in effect when Ashcroft showed up. He needs to explain his appearance. . . . any public servant that accepts an honor from that school should provide an explanation.
On the other hand, when he was criticizing Brown University for having a party that seemed to involve sex and drugs, O'Reilly chose Bob Jones (not Wheaton? or Hope? or Albion? or Patrick Henry? or Liberty?) as his contrast of choice--saying, and probably correctly, “It doesn’t happen at Bob Jones [University].”

The evidence for O'Reilly's claim about the Daily Kos comes from the comments section, apparently, where the occasional scurillous thing is said, as well as the posting of a rather ribald picture of Joseph Lieberman going down on our maximum leader. I'm assuming it was photo-shopped.

I go to the Daily Kos frequently, sometimes more than once a day. It is a vibrant and active community of hundreds of thousands of people. I have also gone to lots and lots of right wing sites, with considerably fewer people--including those of folks self-identified as members of the Klan, or as Nazis.

There are some problems with O'Reilly's argument. First--and probably fundamental--is that its premise is false. One can read Daily Kos on a very regular basis, including a lot of the comments, without seeing anything but spirited debate and discussion, for the most part predicated on a commitment to the Democrats. No racism, anti-semitism, sexism. It doesn't really take that long at other sites to find all of these, often in the sites "statement of principles."

On one pretty conservative, but not vicious, site I frequent, the moderator of the board--a nice guy, if a bit naïve--recently asked

How long will it take for the world to recognize that Whites are being abused and taken advantage of? When will it be politically correct for other races to go far out of their way to accommodate our needs, and our sensibilities?
This is a comment that presupposes considerably more dubious identity politics than virtually any posting--with the possible exception of some comments, all of which would take a really long time to read--at the Daily Kos.

Others--Stephen Colbert better than anyone--has also shown that holding a site responsible for the views expressed in its comment section is ludicrous. (Colbert did a nice bit about boycotting a local Outback Steakhouse, because what was promised on its bathroom wall was not his idea of a "good time.") If something is really offensive, most places remove it. If something is questionable, some places leave it, some places remove it. The Daily Kos may take the strategy of leaving it, for the very argument about what qualifies as "questionable" is, of course, a political issue. O'Reilly's own site doesn't have this problem, I guess, for a few reasons: one must pay to join (Daily Kos is free); O'Reilly scrubs the comments section; O'Reilly (I've heard) removes members who are there--and have paid--to find comments that are scurillous, in order to have ammunition for their goose/gander argument.

Far too many of my friends--and folks in the "liberal" media--want to claim that O'Reilly is stupid. I don't think that is the case. I don't necessarily think he is all that bright, but what I think is going on here is that O'Reilly simply is using a set of conceptual tools appropriate to one kind of medium, and applying it to the "blogosphere." He's not really capable of thinking within the context of the Daily Kos and its extended milieu, and rather than adjusting his framework, he rejects those who work within a context so alien to him. He probably rejects those who use the word "milieu," as well, a position with which I have some sympathy.

Two good tests:

One: go to the Daily Kos and read it every other day for two weeks. Then go to a Klan site, or a Nazi site, and see if you can tell the difference.

Two: watch if, and how, the following (current as of today) phenomenon is treated. On Tommy Thompson's announcement that he was abandoning the race for President, this bit of "Danny Boy" doggerl was posted at the Daily Kos:

O Tommy boy/
the polls, the polls are falling/
from Council Bluffs, and down to Waterloo/
the summer's gone, and your numbers are dying/
because you failed/
to raise money like a Jew/
And don't come back, your time has come and gone, son/
You're just a hack, who can't hold in his pee/
But you were good for laughs, at least, dear cheesehead/
O Tommy Boy, O Tommy Boy/
we'll miss you . . . see? So? I'm sorry, what was that last word? My hearing aid isn't working . . .

The test is to see how this is treated (if it is), by the critics (including O'Reillly). The two comments boldfaced in black are Thompson's reasons for having given a problematic answer about firing workers because they were gay; the one in red will get the attention (and has, already), for it clearly sounds anti-Semitic, and one of O'Reilly's concerns was the alleged anti-Semitism of the Daily Kos (to be fair, it was pretty brutal to Joseph Lieberman; to be more fair, one can criticize a Jew without being anti-Semitic (otherwise, all of Chomsky's critics are guilty of this); the criticism of Lieberman had nothing to do with anything except his being a Bush lickspittle--especially on the war; and, finally, they were right, because Lieberman is a Bush lickspittle, especially on the war.)

The other part of the test is to see if it is mentioned that the claim (again, above boldfaced in red) is a reference to Thompson's own comment, again prompting an apology:

Washington - GOP presidential candidate Tommy Thompson apologized to a Jewish audience Monday after saying that making money is "sort of part of the Jewish tradition."

At the outset of a speech to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the former Wisconsin governor told an audience of a few hundred people that, "I'm in the private sector and for the first time in my life I'm earning money."

Added Thompson: "You know that's sort of part of the Jewish tradition, and I do not find anything wrong with that. I enjoy that."

For a longer account, from Thompson's home newspaper.

In sum, it isn't that O'Reilly is stupid. It's that he either doesn't get, or doesn't want to.

An update: Here's a posting dealing with O'Reilly, the alleged anti-Semitism of the Daily Kos, and a discussion about whether O'Reilly should be sued for defamation of character.


Blogger Bazarov said...

I'm in the "he's an idiot" camp. He may know somewhere in that foggy mind of his that he's exaggerating for polemic and rhetorical effect, but that just means he's a dishonest non-idiot, which I think puts him back in the idiot bin, because he doesn't realize how stupid it is to do such a thing. I believe he's the type of person that can actually lie to himself and believe it. I've never understood this flexibility of mind and nonsense, but the more laps around the Sun I make the more I'm starting to believe (reluctantly I must confess) that some people are just lost. It is hopeless to try to work with them because they've been ruined, like a mold full of cement that has set: you're not gonna be able to reshape it without the aid of hammers and chisels. And while I wouldn't feel the least bit sorry for him should some freak accident befall Mr. O'Reilly, I'd never want anyone to do anything to him lest he become a modern martyr figure. I basically treat him like a cat that got run over by a car, should've been put down, but was "saved" by a $500,000 dollar surgery from some senile old lady who was gonna start a foundation but decided the money was better spent on Whiskers (which reminds me: What do you call a dog with no hind legs and brass balls? Sparky!) In any event, the cat/O'Reilly may make annoying noises which may sound like meows/words, but they're just a link of somewhat functioning neurons producing stereotyped behavior. That is to say, I put O'Reilly in the same category as Terry Schiavo, only she could still smile and mislead people into thinking she still existed.
How's that for prolixity! Ha!

2:09 PM  
Blogger triangirl415 said...

I'd say that O'Reilly is not an idiot, but a shrewd and mean Republican strategist. I love how he gleefully took the Daily Kos comment about Thompson out of context, using it to affix an absurd lable on a website dedicated to tolerance and free speech. I mean, we all know that the Daily Kos and the Nazis are polar opposites, but O'Reilly can justify his libelous rantings simply by claiming he doesn't get their sarcasm. In my "milieu", we call that brilliant - disgusting and cheap, but brilliant. For the record, I checked the Daily Kos today - thanks Kurt - and found articles on coal miner safety, how we can help Jamaica and an analysis of the discourse on global warming. I'm sure these are all topics that worry the KKK to no end.

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