JERUSALEM — Here in Israel, my ability to view American news-programs is limited by what Israeli cable-television offers. As a result, I can only offer media and marketing analyses — as a former Boston journalist who now works in online marketing — based on what Fox News airs. (The satellite networks here show neither the U.S. version of CNN nor MSNBC.) But I can still analyze current events there to a fair degree — and a recent exchange between Sean Hannity and Rep. Ron Paul highlights one the major problems in the climate of Fox News, business, and journalism in the United States.
A few days ago, Hannity interviewed Paul — whose libertarian views have made him into something like the inspiration of the Tea Party movement — on whether he will run for president and his views on various issues. Their exchange specifically on the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” infuriated me because of the lack of intellectual discourse and the simple repetition of ignorant talking-points (mainly on Hannity’s part). I wonder if that is what Fox News advertisers want.
Here is the interview (skip to 8:45 for the discussion on the mosque):
The entire interview on this specific topic consisted of Paul supporting the rights of private property and Hannity condemning the alleged Islamist views of the founders of the mosque — and these views were repeated over and over instead of progressing to discuss the real issue at hand. Here are two examples of quotes from the interview that summarize their sentiments.
Hannity: “The imam, while we believe in free speech, believes in a value system… he says he wants America to be sharia-compliant. It’s the antithesis of everything we believe in.”
Paul: “The principle here is the private-property principle… If you own that land over there, you shouldn’t be told what you can build there. If you want to rent it to any type of religion, you should be able to.”
As I wrote in a prior post ( see “Rhetoric of Rhetoric: Meaning in Politics”), there is a correct way to discuss philosophical or political issues in an intelligent, productive manner:
- First, both sides state the facts and premises on which their arguments rest
- Second, the sides, if warranted, dispute the other’s facts and premises if they are believed to be inaccurate (this can take a long time, and most discussions never proceed beyond this point). Lawyers, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe this rhetorical process is similar to the discovery phase in the legal process
- Third, both sides agree that the remaining — or existing — facts and premises on both sides are correct
- Fourth, each side attempts to prove, through logic and rhetorical argument, that the facts and premises support his conclusion
- Fifth, one side eventually concedes to the other (or, in contexts like a court of law, an outside mediator — like a judge — decides that one side has proved its case better)
Of course, this is a simplistic summary. But the general point stands. In the exchange between Hannity and Paul, the rhetorical process never proceeded beyond the first step outlined above. Both sides merely stated their assumptions over and over without taking the discussion to the next, intellectual step. I would have been pleased to see something like this:
- Paul: “Do you concede that the U.S. Constitution guarantees the owners of private property to manage their properties as they see fit?”
- Hannity: “Yes. Do you concede that the owners of the Ground Zero Mosque are Islamists who have anti-American sentiments?”
- Paul: “Yes.”
Then, both Paul and Hannity could have had a conversation that would have actually been interesting and enlightening. After they would have agreed on both sides’ assumptions, they would have discussed the true issue at hand regarding the making of a value judgment:
“What is more important: protecting the rights of private-property owners or preventing radical Islamists from establishing a presence near Ground Zero in New York? And why should one be prioritized over the other?”
(Note: I am not stating whether I actually agree with their premises. I am merely stating how an intellectual conversation would proceed if these premises were accepted as valid.)
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