Saturday, December 12, 2009

First they came for the O'Reilly's: The Danger of Politicized Detective Shows

By Barry Rubin

The politicization of fictional entertainment shows is another example of the incredibly dangerous polarization of America today.

Consider this story. Fox News' Bill O'Reilly is angry over how he is characterized on a TV show called "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit." After reading what happened I don't blame him. People across the political spectrum should be equally angry. This is not a liberal-conservative issue but one of fundamental importance to everyone.

According to an article, the show is about a crazed anti-immigration activist who murders the children of illegal immigrants. In one scene, a character, defending the murderer says, "Limbaugh, Beck, O'Reilly, all of 'em, they are like a cancer spreading ignorance and hate...They've convinced folks that immigrants are the problem, not corporations that fail to pay a living wage or a broken health care system...."

It seems the character is saying that the murderer is just a dupe pushed over the edge by this evil trio. Since they have never advocated murdering immigrants or their children I assume this dialogue was maliciously written to defame them, damage them professionally, reduce their income, and could potentially bring violence against them. In short, they have been slandered (that's a moral, not a legal opinion).
Second, this show's plot is a Politically Correct lie, not anything based on fact. There have been no crazed anti-immigration activist murdering children of illegal immigrants, but illegal immigrants have committed a lot of crimes. Will a TV entertainment show have that as a plot? I assume no (perhaps I'm wrong) because the producers and writers of television shows believe--more likely inaccurately--that this would make people hate and perhaps even attack illegal immigrants.

In other words, the creators of the show aren't against creating ignorance and hate, they just claim the right to determine who the victims are going to be. Moreover, they can say that this is only a character speaking, not necessarily the opinions of, etc., etc. But does anyone doubt that character is just a ventriloquist's dummy?

Does this mean it isn't legitimate to discuss whether illegal immigration is a problem, just as we can't talk about the Islamist motivations of Khalid Hasan, the Fort Hood murderer, because presumably this will set off an anti-Muslim pogrom? Is it incitement to murder to point out that large numbers of illegal immigrants take jobs away and lower wages for U.S. citizens, and that they could overwhelm the healthcare system in certain states? Isn't that precisely why there are laws to control immigration, which is what makes these immigrants illegal? Or is that, too, incitement to murder?

The permissible bounds of debate on a very large number of issues are being narrowed in myriad ways.

This situation reminds me of the British television drama a few months back which showed crazed Christian fundamentalists decapitating Muslims. This never happened but the opposite has. If you want to shut up about certain things do so, but don't make up total lies in the exact opposite direction, pretending that TV commentators are inciting to murder and pious Christians are cutting people's heads off.

How would people of other views feel if entertainment shows used their names and falsely attributed to them responsibility for brutal crimes that never happened based on things they never said? How about a crazed environmenal activist murdering people and the crime being attributed to Al Gore who would be accused of  spreading hatred toward companies that run power plants?

Finally, what gives with the speech's anti-capitalism message. Living out in Hollywood, guess such people have never heard about the minimum wage law while sitting around the swimming pool. As for the editorial presumably intended to endorse the Obama Administration's health bill, are detective shows now lobbying for legislation?

Of course, if two opinions were provided, one on each side, at least the program-makers could claim they did it for dramatic purposes. But this is pure propaganda.

Why is this of any importance? Because as I've just pointed out (see here) people are already being told that there is only one right way to think and that the alternative view is disgusting, immoral, and even criminal. To add such explicit messages into TV drama shows adds another institution to this closing down of freedom to debate and dissent.

There is another problem here, too, the growing tendency--on both sides--not to answer people with reasoned arguments or facts any more but just to denounce them along the lines of, to paraphrase an old Southern saying, they are too mean to live.

Aside from being just plain wrong from the standpoint of a free society, there is always the danger that this kind of thing could be turned against other people in future. Even during the McCarthy era I don't think Sergeant Joe Friday in "Dragnet" would have named specific people, calling them Commies who are inciting crimes.

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