Monday, February 16, 2009

Embracing the Shrill

Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald takes apart David Brooks in a terrific explication of Brooks' dewy eyed view of Washington journalists and lobbyists. Greenwald calls on a conversation he had with Bill Moyers and NYU Journalism ProfessorJay Rosen to clarify his thoughts.

Brooks got his start at the Washington Times, otherwise known as the NeoCon Newsletter--a paper that has never once turned a profit and is supported solely by Korean "businessman" Sun Myung Moon. This alone should disqualify Brooks from being taken seriously, ever. But this is America where a Know-Nothing like Rush Limbaugh has millions of devoted listeners who engage in an electronic form of voluntary brainwashing every time they tune into his show. He makes Brooks' blatherings seem like grocery store aisle small talk.

One part of Greenwald's discussion of Brooks that interests me is a few paragraphs devoted to the term "shrillness" when applied to journalism. You might guess that my interest stems from my own awareness of my own shrill tone at times, hence the name of this blog. (It is not meant ironically. Ask anyone.)

Greewald does a good job explaining why occasionally a little shrill is just the right thing:

In the context of discussing torture, renditions and the State Secrets controversy, The New York Times' Tobin Harshaw expressly accuses me today of "shrillness" (after having implied it several times in the past):

Greenwald, whose shrillness is usually balanced by ideological consistency and a willingness to hold Barack Obama to the same standards to which he held the previous White House resident . . . .

That, of course, is the same accusation that was continuously launched against Paul Krugman circa 2002 for irresponsibly suggesting that there might be something more than just a little bit wrong with the Bush administration.

One is guilty of the sin of "shrillness" if one: (a) argues that there is something fundamentally -- rather than marginally -- wrong with our political and media establishment and/or (b) fails to use suitably restrained, muted and respectful language when expressing those critiques. Thus, one is "shrill" if one says that George Bush committed felonies by spying on Americans without warrants and torturing people and should be treated like any other accused criminal (rather than saying: "Bush might have circumvented some legal constraints and gone a little too far in trying to keep us safe"). One is "shrill" if one says that establishment journalism, at its core and by design, is principally devoted to serving the interests and amplifying the claims of the Washington establishment (rather than saying: "Journalists could do a better job of reporting some stories"), etc. etc.

"Shrillness" – the first cousin of "Unseriousness" – is the conceptual instrument used to deter and (when that fails) demonize those who view the political and media establishment as corrupt at its core. It's a way of demanding that everyone just calm down, avoid impetuous and inflammatory language, and stop acting as though there's anything seriously wrong with our political and media elites:

Sure, they've made some mistakes; nobody's perfect. But it's not as though there's anything to get excited or angry about. And fine: there are some narrow disagreements among people of good faith and some small problems here and there that require some modifications -- little things like torture, chronic high-level lawbreaking, immunity for the political class (juxtaposed with the sprawling prison industry for ordinary Americans), rampant domestic spying, sky-high walls of government secrecy, full-scale economic meltdown, massive and growing inequities in wealth, endless wars, sleaze and corruption oozing from every Beltway pore, complete media complicity with all of it -- but there's no reason to get all indignant or agitated by it or act as though crimes are being committed or radical changes are needed or anything.

By definition, only people who are "shrill" would do that.

Can I get an A-men?

No comments: