Media chooses to show heat and skip the enlightenment
By Casey Hurley
Nov. 2, 2002 1:55 p.m.

When I read Richard Reeves' column, (Saturday, Oct. 19), I was bewildered because his own article made the argument against the point he was trying to make. Reeves quoted Khrushchev's letter to Kennedy ending the Cuban missile crisis. Khrushchev realized that, if Russia had attacked the United States from Cuba, it would have been destroyed by American nuclear retaliation. He wrote, "Only lunatics or suicides, who themselves want to perish and destroy the world before they die, could do this (press the nuclear button)."

Two paragraphs later Reeves says President Bush ought to follow Kennedy's path to confronting the Iraqi nuclear threat. But Khrushchev's rationale for pulling out of Cuba describes the very reasons why Bush no longer has the luxury of taking Kennedy's approach. As we learned on Sept. 11, 2001, the world is now inhabited by "lunatics and suicides" who have the means to deliver mass destruction. In other words, the heart of Khrushchev's rationale for backing down was torn from the world scene by lunatics and suicides on Sept. 11.

Before I go any farther, I must say that the purpose of this article is not to argue about the rightness or wrongness of taking one action or another against Iraq. My point is totally different. The purpose of this article is to make some observations about the tone of American political discourse in the media. I will present three examples of political commentary in the mass media. The first elaborates on the Reeves column, the second and third ask us to reflect on the tone of the political discourse we want on television and in the newspaper.

My questions are these: If the media modeled a different tone of political discourse, (1) would our understanding of the issues be greater? (2) Would we develop a greater appreciation for the complexity of the issues we face?

So, what is the tone of political discourse in today's mass media? First, let's look at the Reeves column. He is so intent on attacking Bush that he does not even see that the Khrushchev quote undermines his argument.

How might a modern Republican columnist respond to the Reeves piece? Following the tenets of modern political discourse, that person would make the point I made in the first two paragraphs. Then the person would condemn Reeves for his liberal politics. To earn cheers and congratulations from conservative colleagues, the language would defame Reeves and his faulty thinking. Finally, to connect his points to a highly emotional recent event, the columnist might ask, "Where was Reeves on Sept. 11?" This would imply that people like Reeves (liberals) don't get it, and they are not as patriotic as conservatives, who are still mourning for their fellow countrymen and our country.

A second description of political discourse in the mass media will help make my point. Have you watched either the national or local cable news shows, lately? My wife becomes too upset to watch Crossfire. The ideas do not upset her, it is the way they are expressed. It is the way participants take pride in presenting their party's line, even at the cost of being blind to alternatives and their own inconsistencies. The Reeves article is a newspaper example of the latter.

Is "Crossfire" what citizens in a democracy want? Are we really persuaded when people make their points by cutting off opponents, by drowning out others' voices, by being sarcastic, and by repeating party lines about the size of government, the rights of fetuses, the rights of women, the plight of the poor, or the evil of taxes. This must be what television producers believe we want. Why else would we have so many shows with an emphasis on heat, instead of enlightenment.

A third example concludes my point. Look at our Citizen- Times editorial pages. It is clear to me that the editors go to great lengths to balance the political perspectives of their syndicated columnists.

That is why I enjoy reading the letters to the editor that accuse the AC-T of being too liberal or too conservative. They are reading the same paper I am, and it amazes me that their conclusions are the opposite of mine. But even more amazing is the idea that both views have elements of truth, and much truth lies between the two extremes. Wouldn't it be invigorating to have a discussion that would enlighten both those who believe the AC-T is biased and those who believe the AC-T balances political commentary.

My point is that, just as the television shows thrive on "heat." The newspaper columnists, and the AC-T editorial board, seem to believe we want to read those who represent the purest liberal or conservative views. I do not share this view. I believe there is more learned from reading those who display the ability to see both sides. I am not accusing columnists of not seeing both sides. I do not know whether they do or not. From their writings, however, I know that they are not DISPLAYING a willingness to present moderate views or a willingness to see other sides.

I do not know enough about newspaper editing to know if we have moderate political columnists who present well thought out commentaries on the complexity of the controversies confronting our citizenry. If we have too few, or none, at the national level. I volunteer to write such a column, periodically, for our local readership.

If you share my opinion, go to and send an e-mail to the editors that says, "I agree with Hurley." If they receive enough of these, they may take me up on my offer.

A former teacher and principal in Wisconsin, Casey Hurley is a professor of Educational Administration at Western Carolina University.