After watching the right double down on their denial that escalation of violent, racist, bigoted and theocratic rhetoric has any connection to the shooting, I have come to realize we need to push back, and push back hard.
In the US, profanity is considered indecent for public broadcast. The Supreme Court sides with the FCC position that fleeting profanity can be punished. Clearly we still do have strong support for decency standards in place today, despite a lower court ruling otherwise:
07-582 FCC V. FOX TELEVISION STATIONS
DECISION BELOW:489 F3d 444
CERT. GRANTED 3/17/2008
Whether the court of appeals erred in striking down the Federal Communications
Commission’s determination that the broadcast of vulgar expletives may violate
federal restrictions on the broadcast of "any obscene, indecent, or profane
language," 18 U.S.C. 1464; see 47 C.F.R. 73.3999, when the expletives are not
LOWER COURT CASE NUMBER: 06-1760-ag, 06-2750-ag, 06-5358-ag
How is it we find it reasonable to fine somebody hundreds of thousands of dollars for the fleeting word, "fuck", yet we permit inciting violence, bigotry, racism, and theocracy to be done for profit?
The idea that we can just pollute the popular discourse, and lexicon with a ongoing escalation of violent, bigoted, theocratic and racist commentary without suffering a social cost is laughable, particularly when a single instance of profanity aired at the wrong time can cost somebody their job!
This incident is a national wake up call. It is time we decide that inciting violence, racism, bigotry and theocracy are not acceptable in American Politics. These things are indecent, and nearly always wrong. Violence, sadly, cannot always be avoided, but racism, theocracy and bigotry CAN. There is no excuse for promoting those things, when our founding ideas are based on equal protection under the law.
The rationale behind the harsh punishment of fleeting profanity is that younger people, innocents, are harmed when they are exposed to indecent speech, and that our popular media is a commons, powerful, able to set and establish strong norms. We must live with the product of those norms as well.
Are we really going to continue to say it's ok to promote racism, violence, bigotry and theocracy in popular media today? What about the targets of those things?
Are those the norms we want to establish as decent in our politics? Here at Dkos, advocating violence is cause for somebody to be banned, or at the least warned for it. The same is true for racism, theocracy, and bigotry to various degrees too.
How come it's ok to put it on the radio, or the TV for profit then?
There is another element in play here too. The strong norms that popular media establish are pervasive things. When a violent, racist, bigoted, or theocratic person can tune in and hear media speaking to them each day, they feel none of the social pressure to grow up and socialize with their peers necessary to keep these things at bay.
Worse, what about the beaten wife, or the black person, gay person, or Hindu, Muslim, or other religious person who hears their media condemn them for basic freedom of belief, or for who they are, or what they look like? That battered wife, or person who has seen violence in their daily life might be seen as extreme or cowardly for expressing views that are anti-violence too.
Are these the norms we really believe are decent? Do we really think it's ok for people to express openly hateful and violent thoughts on our media, when they can't even say, "fuck" on the air?
I think not!
In our history, the acceptable rhetoric in politics and media was far more tame than we experience today. When a event like this happens, NOBODY questioned whether or not the media was the influence, because the media was keeping it's house in order, insuring that the norms it set were good for EVERYBODY.
The influences that led to violence, or racism, theocracy, bigotry were easily labeled extreme, or non-mainstream, because the higher standards of conduct insured that was the case.
Today that is no longer true, and shouldn't it be?
Everybody with any power at all to influence, to broadcast, write online and in general contribute to the discourse has a civic duty, a social contract to basically say, "Not on my watch!" lest they be associated with clearly destructive behavior.
Today that's not true. Today it's ok to do those things for profit, because the NORM we've established says it's ok, even though we all know racism, violence, theocracy and bigotry are clearly NOT OK.
So what gives?
Do we continue to pollute our discourse with ever escalating violent and hateful rhetoric for profit, ignoring the clear social and political impact of that, or do we do something about it?
I say it's time for the left to push this issue and push it hard. We've got a winner in that we do not condone violence, we don't tolerate racism, bigotry and theocracy, because we know those things are either harmful or discriminatory and there is no excuse for them.
Isn't that the same decency problem we value at hundreds of thousands of dollars for the fleeting word, "fuck" or "shit", which isn't even on the same scale harm wise?
Yes, and it's time to act on that.
Of all the political commentators out there, it's clear the Right has far more to lose than the Left does, and that's a fight we need to pick, because it's a fight that we will in the end win, because the majority of Americans know damn well that it's not ok, not decent to promote violence, racism, bigotry and theocracy for profit.
Wake up call time. Instead of doing the fairness doctrine bit they want us to do, just declare this to be a decency problem and move to act to clean up our civic discourse, so that our politics are not those of fear and ignorance, and they are about policy and progress.