Opinion — if loud and abusive — is worthy opinion. Right?

Apparently, there’s only one standard for measuring the credibility of opinion these days — volume. Let’s look at that through two exceptionally large megaphones: ESPN and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly.

For ESPN, it’s literally the volume with which opinion is pronounced. Says ESPN’s new ombuds(wo)man, Le Anne Schreiber, in her first column after watching an afternoon of ESPN’s programming: “Who are these people and why are they shouting at me?” (Emphasis added.)

Her introduction to ESPN’s afternoon talking-head programming — “Jim Rome Is Burning,” “Around The Horn,” “Pardon The Interruption” and “SportsCenter” — left her with an old saying in mind: Certainty is the place you stop when you are tired of thinking. (She did like PTI’s Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon. They made her laugh.)

Schreiber’s lengthy column analyzed how these talking heads had handled such athletic contretemps as the airport “water bottle” incident of NFL quarterback Michael Vick, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ team doctor’s alleged purchases of testosterone and human growth hormone, and a domestic violence claim against NBA player Ron Artest.

Too much heat, not enough light, according to Schreiber:

I think it is fair to ask a greater degree of humility and suspended judgment than is often heard on air. And I think it is fair to ask producers to encourage less ill-informed vehemence. (Emphasis added.)

Moronic opinion can also be considered as more than mere elevation of decibels; it can be looked at in terms of frequency. Consider Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly.

Indiana University media researchers examined the content of the “Talking Points Memo” portion of O’Reilly’s broadcast. From IU’s press release:

The IU researchers found that O’Reilly called a person or a group a derogatory name once every 6.8 seconds, on average, or nearly nine times every minute during the editorials that open his program each night.

“It’s obvious he’s very big into calling people names, and he’s very big into glittering generalities,” said Mike Conway, assistant professor in the IU School of Journalism. “He’s not very subtle. He’s going to call people names, or he’s going to paint something in a positive way, often without any real evidence to support that viewpoint.”

Maria Elizabeth Grabe, associate professor of telecommunications, added, “If one digs further into O’Reilly’s rhetoric, it becomes clear that he sets up a pretty simplistic battle between good and evil. Our analysis points to very specific groups and people presented as good and evil.”

ESPN shouts. Bill O’Reilly calls people names. I’m old enough to remember when such behavior would be noticeable and frowned on. Now it’s the basic fabric of civil discourse. What I was scolded for in kindergarten has allowed morons to become really well paid pundits.

I suppose I should shrug this off. Hell, it’s just the media. But in the absence of meaningful debate, this behavior becomes the governor of the public square. The behavior is modeled by others — think negative political campaigns.

And people wonder why I complain about the difficulty in getting my college students to understand the meaning of critical thinking.

They think they already know what it is: They watch ESPN and Bill O’Reilly.

xpost: 5th Estate

5 replies »

  1. But O’Reilly says he doesn’t do personal attacks.

    Obviously this tracks beautifully back to what you were saying the other day about our signal:noise ratio problem. And the O’Reilly story in particular highlights all that has gone wrong with “public discourse.” And perversely, we have to turn time and time again to Jon Stewart. On Crossfire. And more recently, see his chat with Bill Moyers.

    Why can’t our journalists and politicians be more like our comedians?

  2. Thanks for another insightful post, Denny. You always teach me stuff.

    I’d note a couple of things:

    1) Bill O’Reilly isn’t a journalist. He’s a demagogue. If one calls him a journalist, one has to call Rush Limbaugh as journalist. He’s riding hobby horses and he has a specific aim – to manipulate public opinion. He’s an insult to the few real journalists left who spend, alas, too much of their time crying in the wilderness that is our current news environment. (How does that feel, btw, Denny?) 🙂

    2) The constant high decibel opining at ESPN reflects the shrillness and pointlessness of nearly all public discourse these days – people have always argued about sports, of course, and sports talk naturally lends itself to demagoguery from so-called “experts” – and we have always given sports much more importance than it deserves in American life. Now sports figures are also rich celebrities who seem to engage in criminal and unethical behavior at a rate that gives politicians serious competition- so all the worst that can emerge from our current culture of spectacle is available at ESPN, then – and one can get the scores…

    What we end up with, then, is a culture of demagoguery on all fronts – from demagoguery posing as journalism to – well, demagoguery posng as journalism. Whether it’s coming from the news desk or the sports desk, it all seems to be demagoguery these days.

  3. Amen. It’s not just the arguing and the volume, of course, it’s also the subject matter. Celebrities and sex are the favorites, to say nothing of celebrity sex. Anna Nicole Smith’s death and her baby must have consumed a couple of terabytes of data every day for months.

    As for sports, how ’bout them Golden State Warriors? Clearly, there’s an instance in which high decibels are warranted! (Or am I merely falling for the home-team shuck and jive yet again?)

  4. Sadly, that type of discourse is international. You win people over to your views not by the way in which you behave or of convincing others, but in the way you dress and speak. Act like you have no doubts, dress like you have no taste but are prepared to spend vast amounts … and you’re either Emenem, or a respected broadcaster.