Saturday, September 06, 2008

Flipflopping in the Modern Media Age

A funny thing happened when WRKO conservative talk host Reese Hopkins (inset) told listeners 17-year-old Bristol Palin's pregnancy makes him question VP hopeful Sarah Palin's parenting skills. Angry Republican listeners blew up his e-mail box, claiming Bristol's condition is family business. And Hopkins, who talked extensively on-air about the suspicious Gloucester teen pregnancy pact, was a little shocked. "You called these girls sluts, you said their parents were horrible," he said of his listeners. "But in 125 e-mails I have stacked in front of me, you're telling me [Bristol Palin's pregnancy] is not a big deal." Hopkins went back to the e-mails he received on the Gloucester story and compared them to his Palin e-mails. He found 70 listeners who flip-flopped on the teen pregnancy issue and invited them to explain. On Monday, Hopkins will broadcast live from George's Coffee Shop in Gloucester with Gloucester Daily Times reporter Patrick Anderson and editor Raymond Lamont.

WRKO is the local conserva-talker to the Boston area. Now I've made a general promise that I won't get into politics on this blog. Given what a political animal I am, this has not been an easy promise to keep! So instead of the inherent political angle of the above quote, I'd like indeed to point out something: flip-flopping isn't as easy as it used to be.

John Kerry got hammered, and perhaps rightly so, for being a "flip flopper" in the 2004 election. For whatever reason, nobody could easily turn that around on the Republicans. But avoiding the flipflop charge seems to be getting harder and harder in the modern media age. Jon Stewart and The Daily Show have used this to GREAT effect over the years, especially lately.

But if it's creeping into a usually-reliable mouthpiece for the right, against its own party, then it strikes me that pretty anything that anyone says can - and will - come back to haunt them, and before much time has passed, either.

An optimist might think this would encourage people to put more thought into their invective, but realist that I am, I fear this will ultimately force public speakers to scrub anything they say to have even less content than it does now.

Here's the question, though...what happens when the technology advances to the point where anything someone says can be fact-checked so in, within seconds...that if they're contradicting themselves, you can show a video of it while the real-time speech is still going on. I mean, context is key in everything we say, and it's so easy to take things out of context when you're just talking 10 or 20 second video clips.

When, not if, that happens...who exactly decides what clips to air?


Tom Wilson said...

The beauty of the modern information age is that more and more of this information is available to everyone, not just the news media.

In the past, it was largely the news media who controlled access to information, and unethical newsmen could control a story so that it made good men look like fools and fools look intelligent.

Just like with the music business, which used to be controlled by a few large entities but is now in the process of being freed up by the Internet, I believe that the news media will also crumble, to be replaced by something more "p2p" like.

My greatest hope is that it will force politicians to either stand behind their words or to have good reasons to change their minds. After all, if you know that the world KNOWS what you said last week, you'll be more inclined to say what you mean, rather than say what you think people want to hear today.

The upshot to all this is that we might start seeing the less consistent politicians falling in to disfavor with the public, and natural selection will favor the men and women who do what they say, rather than say whatever they think will get them a vote.

Tom Wilson said...

Oh, and on flip-flopping about teenage pregnancy: I DO think it's a despicable thing that several teenage girls got in to a "pregnancy pact", and I think their parents DID fail them. I also think that Bristol's pregnancy isn't the end of the world.

How are these stances consistent? Simple: Bristol didn't set out to get pregnant. Those girls did. Bristol will almost certainly not end up on welfare as a drain on society. Odds are that those girls will.

It's a shame that Bristol was either ashamed or afraid to use birth control. It's even more of a shame that she was having sex behind her mom's back. But nearly every family has one bad sheep. The surprise isn't that one girl got knocked up - it WOULD have been a surprise if none of them were messing around in the first place.

In my opinion, the evils of teenage pregnancy is not that kids are having sex. That always has and always will happen. It's that these teenage mothers lose the opportunity that they would have had if they weren't caring for a newborn at the age of 16 or 17 (or even 19 or 20).

Aaron Read said...

My greatest hope is that it will force politicians to either stand behind their words or to have good reasons to change their minds. After all, if you know that the world KNOWS what you said last week, you'll be more inclined to say what you mean, rather than say what you think people want to hear today.

That's the optimistic view...but I'm more cynical; I suspect it will lead to politicians making sure NOTHING they say can ever be used against them by scrubbing EVERYTHING they say clean of ANY content whatsoever.

And actually, Tom...the scandal was that the so-called "pregnancy pact" never existed. It was (allegedly) made-up by the now-ex school principal, Joseph Sullivan.

While I feel that the teens' denials of the pact have to be viewed in the light that, given the media scrutiny, ALL of them have a vested interest in debunking the pact...regardless, it does appear to be a gigantic hoax.

So how does this change your feelings, Tom? It would appear there isn't any difference between the Gloucester 17 and Bristol Palin...just that Bristol has a rich mom to support her after that same rich mom slashed benefit programs for teenage mothers in Alaska.

Tom Wilson said...

I know it was a hoax. I read about the "pact" and its debunking just a couple of days later. However, your comments were about the response to the pact, not the actual act.

I can't comment on Palin's history or acts in office: I simply haven't researched her. To be honest, both sides in this election seem to be making empty promises. The only choice is whether you want promises of bigger government and social welfare or a smaller government where people have to fend for themselves.

Obama's basically running on the same platform that Clinton ran on. Clinton promised us health care. He delivered the Family Medical Leave act - a 3 month unpaid vacation. McCain is running on the same platform that Bush did: lower taxes and leaner government. Bush gave us more government spending than ever and 2 wars.

Now as to teenage pregnancy: I read that most poverty can be traced to teenage pregnancy. This is interesting, since teenage pregnancy is higher than ever - and the number of babies born to unmarried parents is just skyrocketing.

However, if there's an evil in teen pregnancy, it's that these girls' childhoods are cut short and that most of them end up in the poverty and welfare cycle. As to girls getting pregnant on purpose so that "someone will love them unconditionally"... children are not toys, or pets, and it's pathetic to use a human being that way. THAT is why people should have been upset about the pregnancy pact (if it had been real).

Your original post DOES highlight the lemming response. People look for the good in their guy and the bad in the other guy. I have to struggle constantly to ensure I'm not doing this; it often puts me at odds with family and friends because I don't fit any political mold. Even when I do agree with someone's politics, it's often not for the same reason they do.

But then if everyone actually thought for themselves instead of simply repeating what they read on the news, we probably wouldn't be in this mess in the first place.