Open season on journalists?
OK, I don't want to overplay that headline, but a disturbing post yesterday comes from the campaign trail and Mark Binker, the statehouse stalwart for the Greensboro News & Record.
Binker relates how a colleague, while trying to interview Obama supporters thrown out of a Palin rally, was chopped in the knee by a McCain-Palin supporter.
Binker's boss, Editor John Robinson, discusses more generally the Secret Service's role in apparently keeping reporters penned so that they can't go out and talk to supporters and hecklers.
As I said, I don't want to overplay the headline here, but it's clear to me, having covered my share of presidential and other campaign events, that we're seeing a marked change in civility this year. Are we returning to the era when politicians would challenge each other -- and journalists they felt had treated them shabbily -- to duels or fistfights. Probably not, I hope not.
But we aren't talking about a world where one of the most powerful weapon was the dueling pistol, either. The stakes are so much greater that we need to pay attention and think about it.
We should not be surprised. Words are powerful weapons, too, and we too often fling them about with abandon. Every time we call someone a "suspected" or "accused" terrorist, murderer, molester, whatever, we have eroded that civility ever so slightly by labeling them in many people's minds "terrorist" or "murderer" or "molester" when it is just as easy to minimize the potential harm by using "xxxxx suspect."
When we mindlessly call every killing a "murder," when we fall into the cops' mind game of calling someone a "person of interest" because it lets them label the person "suspect" in the minds of much of the public without having to take responsibility for using that term.
When we parrot "mistakes were made" without demanding that someone take responsibility.
When we let the spokesman or spokeswoman attack -- or respond -- without holding their boss accountable (wouldn't it be refreshing to see reporters tell a mouthpiece occasionally, "Sorry, but this is too important for you to handle. We talk to your boss or just put you all down for a no comment.").
When we do these things and others, we scratch away at a bit of civility.
But, you might ask, is it the job of us -- still the most powerful media complex in the world -- to take on the burden of considering civility along with all the other details and complications with which we must deal?
To which I would simply respond, if not us, then whom?
A friend sends along this AP story:
RIVERSIDE, Calif.—A San Bernardino County Republican group has distributed a newsletter picturing Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on a $10 bill adorned with a watermelon, ribs and a bucket of fried chicken.
Linking Obama to demeaning racist stereotypes drew denunciations from various GOP officials after the illustration appeared in the October newsletter of the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported Thursday.
Diane Fedele, president of the group, said she had no racist intent.
"I never connected," she told the newspaper. "It was just food to me. It didn't mean anything else."
I never connected. It was just food to me. We are becoming tone deaf.