Saturday, June 13, 2009

Talking point peril

I'm a news junkie. I'll take Washington Week in Review over American Idol any day. I wake up to NPR, I'll subscribe to the newspaper 'till the bitter end and can get lost for hours on news blogs and websites. News is something that actually does keep me in the moment. (And by "news," I mean real news, not the latest household theatrics of Jon & Kate +8.)

I've also worked in communications for 30+ years, so I understand the role of news in shaping the Zeitgeist. Using the public's interest in a hot news topic to advance a related point of view can be powerfully persuasive. I've done it myself, and counseled others to do likewise when it makes sense.

But this week I saw a misuse of this tactic that made me want to disavow all connection to communication expertise. It was a missive put forth suggesting that the slaying of a security guard at the Holocaust Museum exemplifies the need for labor legislation now being considered by Congress.

It seems that security staff at the museum had requested bullet-proof vests, and been denied. If the legislation now under consideration had already passed, reasoned the author of this argument, security staff would have formed a union which would have mandated vests be issued, thus sparing the guard's life.

I was, in a word, appalled, to see the facts of this tragedy take such a circuitous route from cause to effect and end up as fodder for the latest set of talking points.

I have no wish to debate here the merits of labor laws, nor whether protective vests for security guards are warranted. Seems like a reasonable idea, actually, although it appears the perpetrator in this case would have been just as happy to shoot up museum visitors, so unless distributed to all at the door it seems bullet-proof apparel would not have been an adequate solution. And to be fair, I have seen subsequent reports that more clear-headed supporters of the proposed legislation have rejected this particular argument, which gives me hope that rational conversation can prevail.

But I do suggest that these two data points -- proposed labor legislation, and the killing of a black security guard at a Holocaust museum by a previously convicted white supremacist anti-Semite -- are in no way related, and tawdry attempts to connect them via talking points to advance a political agenda are reprehensible.

I'm all for intelligent discussion of the political question. Put the pundits on Meet the Press and the op-ed pages of the nation's newspapers. Give them full opportunity to put forth reasoned arguments for their points of view and let the public consider the matter. But do so with the civility and intellectual honesty that the matter deserves.

And let the shooting, and the hatred that fueled it, exemplify what it really is: the face of evil.

1 comment:

LO said...

A postscript both discouraging and touching: a report from NPR's Scott Simon on the anti-Semitic comments he regularly receives, followed a lovely tribute to the man who was killed in this shooting. Worth a listen.