The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 30.0°F | Fair

COLUMN

Childish Journalistic Behavior

Andrew C. Thomas

“Opinion” is a very peculiar word. Certainly, it has an accepted definition: dictionary.com defines it as “a belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof.” That’s a pretty flexible definition, one sanctioned by every major newspaper and Internet news source around. Among other things, it ensures freedom of speech by widening the universe of acceptable discourse. That it comes with the ultimate escape clause makes it all the more insidious as a source of news.

Of course, like any group, columnists have their fringe element, who take full advantage of the leeway they are granted. I’d like to take the opportunity to highlight two who embarrass the profession through their radical approach. On looks alone, Ann Coulter would hardly strike the average person as a right-wing nut. The author, lawyer and “talking head” has stereotypical blonde babe good looks, but her fierce journalistic rhetoric has established her reputation in this country as a spokesperson for the political Right, though I doubt that the majority of free-thinking conservatives (let alone all others) would agree with some of her ideas or techniques.

This is painfully evident in both her content and her style. Even a glance at her columns reveals an extensive and excessive use of quotation marks around words, as if you could see her making the gesture with both hands, taking a breath, and expressing her profound thought using an overly emphatic voice. The effect only gets more pronounced with repetition, and its motive far more transparent. Simply, she confronts ideas purely by mocking them. If she makes an intellectual point, her weapon of attack certainly blurs it beyond rationality.

But make no mistake, Coulter is quite effective, and she is definitely setting an example in her profession. Her style has been adopted by a younger generation, desperate to have its words heard by any means possible -- however poorly conceived they may be. In particular, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, is starting his own rant campaign. Ben Shapiro, a junior in political science, wrote for the UCLA Daily Bruin until this past June, when he began an affiliation with the Creators Syndicate.

Shapiro certainly draws attention for being a dissonant voice for his age group. His columns have drawn their own share of controversy (though on a smaller scale than those of Ann “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity” Coulter), first at UCLA, then, following his syndication, on various Web publications. Why has the reaction been so strong? Even a glance at the title of a recent column, “I was right, I am right, and I will be right,” gives you an idea of the kind of feeling he provokes.

I have no doubt that Coulter is one of Shapiro’s ideological inspirations. This Demagogic Duo specializes in using their views, first and foremost, to piss people off. Shapiro’s biography on townhall.com states that his “confrontational approach always draws a hailstorm of response.” In hers, Coulter is identified as “a self-described bomb-thrower.” Both are in love with the word “whine,” typically when trying to describe the impassioned actions of their chosen enemy.

But their approach has one very dangerous effect, likely the exact one they seek. There is a tone underlying much of their work, very much echoing that of George W. Bush: Either you are with “us” or against “us.” Coulter does it with the labels “liberal” and “conservative,” which she applies (cough) quite liberally. Shapiro does it by insulting the intelligence of everyone who dares disagree with him, both literally and figuratively.

Limiting any debate to two sides is inherently dangerous and counter-productive. So why do these two, and others who have lined themselves up on both sides of this line, continue their childish behavior? They don’t exactly have an alternative, in this case. Neither side can possibly trust the other, as things are now. So who wins? Coulter and Shapiro, the Creators Syndicate, and among others, Crown Publishers, who have produced Coulter’s latest masterpiece, with the indicative title “Slander: Liberal Lies about the American Right.” Not to mention their counterparts, across the line they draw together, who stare them in the face.

These poor representatives of their profession speak quite loudly. Their psychological tactics dominate their work, as they drown out many other legitimate voices with fresh ideas. I continue to look for new voices who use their big sticks for other purposes than drawing lines in the sand.