this is why we can’t have nice things

So here’s a perfect example of how actually-important political debates get lost in the haze of useless slapfights, observe David Corn vs. Bill O’Reilly on the subject not of foreign policy or really even media ethics but the personal integrity of Bill O’Reilly. Sure, I’m happy to see a lying blowhard get called out in this way. But Greg Grandin wrote a piece that was similar to the later-arriving Mother Jones piece earlier this month. (To be clear, I’m not accusing anyone of journalistic impropriety, but a link back to Grandin would have been natural and useful to readers, largely because it’s just a better, more thoughtful piece.) Why didn’t Grandin’s piece attract as much attention as the MoJo piece? I mean, it actually had a point beyond  shooting spitballs at O’Reilly; it considered the way in which post-Vietnam journalism evolved in response to various late-Cold War conflicts, and in so doing, had a broader point than “O’Reilly’s a dink.” O’Reilly is a dink, and he deserves to get shot called in this way. But everybody who will side with Corn already thinks that O’Reilly’s the devil and those who like O’Reilly will never listen to Corn. And of course, there’s Politico to cover it all like it’s a fight on a  junior high school playground.

The answer is that Grandin’s post didn’t suffer in comparison despite the fact that it had a broader point than O’Reilly’s lack of integrity. It suffered in comparison because it had a broader point. The politics of personalities is the problem.

Update: I notice that MoJo has a link to say that the Nation had a video first. I’m not sure if it was retroactive or not. Broader point stands: we should have a conversation about the Falklands, about South America and the West, and foreign policy over this, not just a “showdown” between media personalities.


  1. Wait, why do we need to have a conversation about the Falklands? Is there anyone in the West who actually thinks they should be given to Argentina?

    1. Uh, how about the specific issues of journalism and foreign policy that Grandin discussed in his piece? Or did you not bother to read it before commenting?

      1. I did read the piece, but I didn’t really understand how the Falklands were relevant to the massacres, other than the war being near in time to the events of the piece.

        I will grant that I may just be ignorant of some historical context that makes the relationship obvious.

        1. The point Grandin and Freddie are making isn’t about the Falklands. It’s about the massacres in El Salvador and how they were covered and how an opportunity to revisit a disgraceful episode in our foreign policy that involved support for mass murder got turned into a gossip story about the cat fight between O’Reilly and Corn.

  2. So,is Grandin saying this is an example of the gradual takeover of the newscaster in place of the news (cf. brian williams, which is what I’m getting from the MJ and politico pieces), or sensationalism with no real added content?

    I guess what I’ve really been learning here is that journalism is storytelling, and that the actors like to tell good stories, albeit at some cost to the truth. I think it’s probably always been the case, but now we have a lot more means to expose every time it happens, and a dedicated corps of people who want to do it (umm..yay, partisnaship.. maybe?).

    Although, I will say that without something to stick in there to take up the media’s place (because, who really trusts them?), I just feel like I’m stuck with the adversarial system (red vs blue media) being better then a faux unbiased media (which is what I thought I grew up with)- at least I can compare notes, and the two sides are motivated to make each other look bad, ie they check on each other.

    Sorry if it’s rambly. It feels like this is a big topic, and it’s hard to see where the debate about media stops and discussion about policy begins, especially since it’s so easy to get drawn into te reality show of the former.

  3. The El Mozote Masscre is so forgotten that I actually got blocked on Twitter by a mainstream photojournalist in her 40s for bringing it up. She told me I was pushing “conspiracy theory.” She didn’t like Reagan but how dare I (a mere nobody) impugn the integrity of the press like that.

  4. It was pretty amusing to watch the debate over child refugees from Central America a few months back. There was hardly a murmur of curiosity about what events in recent Central American history (including very recent history) might help explain why people would want to leave that region.

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