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TV hollerers, persuading by noise

COMMENTARY | February 02, 2008

Enough already with the shouting and fist-banging; Carolyn Lewis for one likes a little civility from her TV pundits.

By Carolyn Lewis

The square black box sits in the corner of the den like an invited guest. Because it resides in the private space of my house, I expect it to behave with a decent respect for my hospitality.

I don't countenance shouting, rudeness or fist-banging in my house. So why do the people in the box imagine they are welcome when they behave that way? I am referring to television pundits who substitute in-your-face hollering for the gentle art of persuasion. It's as though they believe if they shout loud enough, curl their lips and spout nasty words, they will change my mind.

One of the worst offenders is Glenn Beck. So wedded is he to right-wing ideology that he calls Hillary Clinton "a spooky socialist" and then grins happily when he says it. He opposes the stimulus package approved by the House and the President because it feeds money to the middle class whereas, he claims, it is the rich who create wealth and therefore this legislation interferes with the free market economy. He argues that if people are suffering it's their own fault and they should be prepared to face the consequences.

It isn't just what he says, which is maddening enough, but the way he says it that offends. He spews out the words, rants and pontificates with the thunderous certainty of a fundamentalist preacher. Fire and brimstone, I guess, is supposed to increase the ratings.

The real art of persuasion requires not powerful lungs but well-reasoned discourse. In its stead, television offers angry, quarrelsome disputes, guests stomping on each other's words, dousing divergent opinions in scalding scorn. (And who can forget Bill O'Reilly yelling "shut up" to the people he disagrees with?))

I wonder whatever happened to dignified restraint and measured speech. There's something sick about a medium in which the loudest mouth gains access to the public's living rooms. There's something venal and irresponsible about the owners of cable and over-the-air stations unashamedly promoting this kind of thing.

What's scary is that it nurtures a public taste for it, so that we become unable to hear what anybody is saying unless he screams in our ears. Speakers who have thought through an issue, those who acknowledge the ambiguity and nuances that come along with its complexity, can no longer be heard because viewers have lost the power to listen. And then, having stuffed our ears with bellowing, braying and bluster, we head to the polls and vote.

How much better for the body politic if we would press the mute button or better still, the one marked "off." The black box in my den is most often enlightening and the best kind of company when it falls mercifully, blessedly, silent.

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