Thursday, February 21, 2008

Afflicting the comfortable

Every week, I open beautifully scripted correspondence from folks telling me to shove it.

And no, not all of it’s from my boyfriend, U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg. (Yes, Howdy Doody, R-Tipton, is such a charmer).

Officials of all political stripes can threaten not to talk to me, as if that will keep them out of the story.

Folks, as any good flack will tell you, the easiest way to skirt the line of fire is not to do something stupid.

But take your shots. I can take ‘em.

That’s what take-no-prisoners columnists like H.L. Mencken and Molly Ivins did. And if there’s a missing ingredient in journalism today (besides money for emaciated newsrooms), it’s fearlessness.

The most common and effective PR tactic by any politician, business, lobby or bored, but motivated individual is to beat reporters and media outlets down. Fight them on every controversial story; instigate a boycott; circulate politically spun “fact checks”; threaten to sue; threaten to get the writer fired; pen libelous blog posts against them.

Some unlucky reporters have entire Web sites dedicated to disparaging their work, typically the handiwork of swaggering campaign operatives. (Personally, I savor the anonymous posts that Walbots have gotten me canned from my last two gigs. Nice try, boys).

Yep, kill the unfavorable coverage by any means necessary. Especially, of course, if it’s the truth.

Why do you think so many editorial pages nowadays lack any spunk, soul or actual opinions, even when taking on mostly irrelevant issues like, “The iPhone: cool or supercool?”

Taking positions and telling it like it is tends to ruffle feathers. Folks who prefer the dumbed-down world of the blogosphere, where you can shop around for the facts of your choosing, don’t like the harsh slap of reality that a hard-nosed newspaper can deliver.

And interest groups, fat and spoiled by politicians who give them carte blanche to write laws, seem shocked that they don’t have control of the media, too.

These shrill voices and heavy-handed tactics can wear on journalists, who work crummy hours for circus peanuts. But this exercise in masochism actually makes perfect sense to most of us.

We love what we do. We believe in truth and justice. It’s our job to dig to the bottom of corruption and deceit and bring it to light.

Mencken, as always, said it best, that it’s journalism’s job to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”

That is why I write this column.

This is my life. I don’t share stories about my 10 children, 22 cats and two iguanas. Life’s too short to bore you with sickeningly saccharine anecdotes about today’s tiff between Mrs. Puffers and Scaleystilskin.

But I have the privilege to write every week about art and presidents and books and human nature and the perennial quest for sound public policy. Things that may seem abstract, but are intimate facets of all our lives.

Politics isn’t a game to me. My Capitol press corps colleagues warn I’ll burn out for sure because you have to recognize the divine comedy of it all. And I do – that’s where my endearing satire kicks in.

But I am a shameless idealist. And I think the stakes are incredibly high in an era of massive debt, globalization, failing education, terrorism and astronomical health care costs.

So when our esteemed leaders foul up, I’m gonna hit ‘em hard and hit ‘em fast.

And I don’t care if I’m called the next Ann Coulter or a commie traitor by my venerable fan base.

At the same time, I think a politician’s character counts immensely - and shouldn’t be an oxymoron. Here’s a dirty little secret: Lots of the folks you think are right on the issues are vicious SOBs and many on the other side are decent, well-intentioned people. (For the record, Mr. Recall, Leon Drolet, is a droll chap who’s far cleverer than his adolescent adversaries on liberal blogs).

And often it’s leaders’ egos, nastiness and guile that gets in the way of compromise and critical policy.

In crafting this column, I’ve thought about doing measured, policy-wonk fare fit for the Economist. There’s certainly a place for that (it’s my day job) and we need more of it.

But here, I’ve chosen to write a weekly wake-up call, mercilessly skewering those hucksters annihilating our economy, education system, environment, health care and quality of life. Analyzing why it’s happening - and who’s winning and losing.

After extracting a titter about the tragic absurdity of it all, I try to lay out some constructive solutions.

Battle Creek Unlimited CEO Jim Hettinger once said I don’t write with a pen – I write with a sword.

Well, that’s about the best compliment I’ve darn well ever received. And I know that’s the very reason my inbox gets jammed with hate mail.

That’s my job, really, to make you outraged – to make you pay attention.


Christine said...

(For the record, Mr. Recall, Leon Drolet, is a droll chap who’s far cleverer than his adolescent adversaries on liberal blogs).

We have a pool going on how many posts this will generate on liberal blogs. You want in??? We figure this is about a week's worth of material!


Susan J. Demas said...

I figured bloggers would miss the point. It is a column about journalism, after all.

Leon seems to get it, though:

Comments by: leon drolet Posted: Fri Feb 22, 2008 5:13 pm
All you needed to do was ask anybody who has ever worked with/for me and you would have known that I am FAR more juvenile than any lefty blogger could ever hope to be!

I am going to have you fired.

Leon Drolet

Christine said...

I figured bloggers would miss the point. It is a column about journalism, after all.

Well I don't know about the rest of 'em, but I miss pretty much every point sent my way. :)

I'm losing in the pool too. I haven't seen any posts from bloggers outraged at your suggestion that Leon is more clever than we are.

This is not possible!!!!