Martin Longman makes a very good point about the Laura Ingraham boycotts (boldface mine):
Imagine for a moment that you are Brian Stelter. Your job is to talk about how the media are performing and your platform is CNN. Do you think your employers will be pleased with you if you take the position that it’s a good thing that citizens are boycotting the advertisers on a rival network? Probably not, right? After all, once that practice becomes established at Fox News it is quite likely to be employed against CNN’s advertisers too, as soon as a member of their on-air talent says something offensive. And that’s only a matter of time even if being offensive isn’t basically the business model at CNN the way it seems to be at Fox News.
So, it’s not really surprising to see Brian Stelter’s take on the boycott of Laura Ingraham’s advertisers at Fox News. If you haven’t heard, Ingraham is on a self-imposed sabbatical after advertisers began pulling out of her show because she’d decided to be provocative and attack Parkland student and survivor David Hogg for being rejected from four separate colleges to which he had applied. Stelter is worried not so much about Ingraham’s offensive speech as the principle involved:
Stelter opened Sunday’s Reliable Sources with an explanation of the ongoing feud between Ingraham and Hogg: Ingraham mocked Hogg’s college rejections in a tweet; Hogg called for an ad boycott of her show; companies began to pull their ads; Ingraham apologized; Hogg declined her apology; Ingraham went on vacation as advertisers continued to pull out.
“Are ad-boycotts the right answer here?” Stelter asked his guests. “I’m personally pretty wary of this. I think it’s dangerous to see these ad boycott attempts happening more and more often in this country.”
“My view is let’s not shut down anyone’s right to speak. Let’s meet their comments with more speech. Lets try to respond that way.”
This is where abstraction gets you. Ingraham, along with many other Fox News personalities, routinely engages in brutal ad hominem attacks. That is why people are calling for boycotts. No one is calling for a boycott because someone endorses a cut in the marginal income tax rate. Instead of focusing on abstractions (as opposed to what Ingraham actually did), Stelter and many other Very Serious People (not to mention about 95% of the damn intertoobz) need to recognize that life often forces you to choose two competing principles, in this case:
- Public Person behaved repugnantly (in the service of a repugnant cause).
- We want to ensure that diverse opinions aren’t silenced.
The hard thing about life is, when you’re faced with these conflicts, choosing between them. Stelter seems to have made his choice, and as Longman notes, that choice appears to coincide with his employers’ needs.
When faced with issues like this, too often the political press corps turns the actual choice into an abstraction, rather than dealing with the specifics of the case–which is a great way of avoiding having to pass some sort of judgement. Which, come to think of it, is what much of the press corps routinely does on issues large and small…