Friday, October 15, 2010

why TV is a bad medium for complex issues

I never watch "The View." Apparently, the incendiary Bill O'Reilly (whom I never watch, either) was a guest on the show this morning, and his remarks during a debate about the so-called Ground Zero Mosque prompted two of the show's hosts, Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar, to walk off the set. The event as related by Fox News:

Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg stormed off the set of "The View" during an appearance by "The O'Reilly Factor" host Bill O'Reilly on Thursday morning.

Conversation during the morning show segment had turned to the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque."

"Seventy percent of Americans don't want that mosque down there," O'Reilly said.

When asked why, O’Reilly explained that the mosque was not supported by the majority of Americans because its location was “inappropriate."

When Goldberg asked why it was inappropriate, citing 70 Muslims who died in the attacks, O'Reilly said: "Because Muslims killed us on 9/11. That's why.”

Goldberg responded, “That is such bulls**t."

"Muslims didn't kill us? Is that what you're saying?" O'Reilly asked.

"Extremists did that!” Goldberg said.

As the conversation became more heated, Behar got up from her seat beside O'Reilly.

"I don’t want to sit here right now, I don’t," Behar said. "I am outraged by that statement.”

Goldberg joined her colleague and the two walked off stage.

Barbra Walters came to their guest's defense.

“I want to say something to all of you. You have just seen what should not happen,” she said. “We should be able to have discussions without washing our hands and screaming and walking off stage. I love my colleagues, but that should not have happened.”

Walters then said to O’Reilly: “Now let me just say in a calmer voice, it was extremists. You cannot take a whole religion and demean them.”

“If anybody felt that I was demeaning all Muslims, then I apologize,” O’Reilly said.

Goldberg and Behar returned to the stage minutes later.

“We’re back because now you apologized,” said Behar.
If this debate represents the depth of the average American's thinking on a subject as complex as the building of the Ground Zero Mosque, I weep for the future.

Feel free to comment. Let's get a real discussion going, here.



Rhesus said...

There's going to be a lot more weeping to do.

Charles said...

I don't know too much about the GZM, but I do know that it 1) is not at Ground Zero, 2) will actually be a community center that will include a mosque, and 3) will be built on a site that is already been used by Muslims as a place of prayer.

So what does that mean? I'm not sure. Of course, I am uneasy about radical Islam. I don't think that the building of the complex, however, is an attempt by radical Islamic elements to insult the U.S. or gloat over their "triumph" on 9/11 (this seems to be the picture some people are trying to paint).

Kevin Kim said...


I've seen some debate about whether the Ground Zero Mosque/Cordoba House is or isn't at Ground Zero. Because it's going to be located at the site of a building that had been hit and destroyed (well, rendered unusable) by plane wreckage, there's a large school of thought that says that that site is Ground Zero, too.

From what I can see, the conservative argument concedes that there's no legal reason the center can't be built. The argument, instead, is one of propriety: is it in good taste to establish an Islamic center that's practically on top of a site that many already consider sacred because of all the people killed there?

One reply to this has been that there are already mosques in the vicinity; should they be moved farther away from Ground Zero? How far is far enough?

What complicates the debate is the meta-question of who, exactly, has a dog in this fight. To me, it seems this is most immediately a question for New Yorkers to resolve. It's their turf, after all. The problem, though, is that (1) New York City is itself an international icon, so that whatever happens within it will have global ramifications; and (2) the discussion ratcheted very quickly up from questions of local zoning laws to questions of culture and clashing ideologies. At this point, the issue is no longer merely a local one.

As for Goldberg and Behar: I agree with Baba Wawa that they shouldn't have walked off the set. That was silly, and not exactly a point for the liberals. Of course, one reason why I don't watch O'Reilly is that he's not interested in nuance. While it's factually true that "Muslims killed us on 9/11," simply leaving the discussion right there wasn't appropriate. It seemed almost as if he wanted the audience to draw its own bigoted conclusions about all Muslims, but he created this impression in a way that allowed him to deny he was doing such a thing. Goldberg's knee-jerk response ("Extremists!") was just as lacking in nuance.

From the rightie side-- Pat Condell: take him or leave him.

From the leftie side-- Keith Olbermann: no mosque at the Ground Zero Mosque site.

(Full disclosure: I'm not a fan of Olbermann. Although I'm deeply uncomfortable with the tone and content of many of Condell's rants, I find him both intelligent and incisive. Olbermann often comes off as a humorless blowhard.)


Rhesus said...

The question seems to hinge on how much of the area should be considered "sacred," and to what extent the 9/11 hijackers are associated with the general Islamic community.

It doesn't seem like there's any agreement about how sacred Ground Zero really is. There's not even any agreement about what kind of memorial would be suitable, such that even though there have been numerous proposals, there's still nothing there. Because of this it seems a bit incoherent to oppose the mosque with the "sacred ground" argument. How can it disturb the sanctity of the area when there's no consensus about what that sanctity entails? Contrast this with the much greater certainties about Pearl Harbor or Antietam (obviously not exact parallels).

This leads into the "bad taste" argument. Of course, this argument is made because people see some sort of uniformity in Islam, hence O'Reilly's comments. I think the connection between Islam and "extremism" is more complex than ever comes out in current discussions (either "none" or "total," depending on who's shouting), but the people behind the proposed mosque haven't done anything illegal and have shown no association with or sympathies for "extremism." How then is the mosque in violation of propriety?

Somehow, accepting the mosque may lead to more realistic or meaningful discussions about Islam. Then again, in the present political climate having meaningful discussions about anything is nearly impossible.

Anonymous said...

Amazing, of the three comments, only the first addressed the purpose of the post.

I would not weep. My reading says that most people have a very clear understanding of this particular issue, and probably most issues. It is the ideologically driven celebrities stuck on their celebrity status that become hysterical and walk off TV sets. How dare anyone have a view other than their's! If they can't suppress the view, they refuse to hear it.

In fairness, O'Reilly often does not present ideas precisely, probably because it is one of his ways of stirring the pot for effect.

From the description of the show, it was a case of massive egos colliding, not a complex issue being discussed.