Losing His Cool

You remember Alex Jones, the man who wanted CNN’s Piers Morgan deported because he had the audacity to suggest that the United States needs tighter gun control laws. If we keep turning rocks over and idiots like Jones continue to crawl out it will eventually give conservatives a bad name. Assuming he ever had “it,” Alex Jones recently went on Piers Morgan’s TV show and lost it, as the following Yahoo News story tells us:

Alex Jones, the conservative talk radio host who launched a petition to deport CNN prime-time host Piers Morgan over the British citizen’s views on gun control, had what you might conservatively call a wee bit of a meltdown during an interview on Morgan’s show Monday night.

Jones, whose petition has generated more than 100,000 signatures since being posted last month on the White House’s “We The People” website, lashed out at Morgan over his public calls for tighter gun regulations in the wake of last month’s shootings in Newtown, Conn., where 26 people—including 20 children—were killed by a gunman at an elementary school.

“The Second Amendment isn’t there for duck hunting,” a relatively calm Jones said at the beginning of a two-part, 15-minute interview. “It’s there to protect us from tyrannical government and street thugs.”

This is interesting for a number of reasons. To begin with, the fact that Jones later in the interview lost his cool and started to blather suggests that he knew deep-down he is on very thin ice. The thinness of the ice is demonstrated by his ignorance of the second amendment to the Constitution. The amendment was not written to protect us from “tyrannical government and street thugs.” It was written to protect us from standing armies, including our own. It was intended to guarantee that every American male would have arms and could be called upon to protect his country from armed invaders. There weren’t many “street thugs” about in those days — and very few conservative radio talk-show hosts (lucky Colonials!).  And the tyrants had already been sent back to England, though there was always the possibility that their armies might return. Hence the need for a militia.

The depth of ignorance among the gun-rights movement is staggering but not really surprising, given the fact that Americans are generally ignorant about their own history. One wonders how many of those who rant about the second amendment have ever read it. It’s not that long and has few, if any, big words. As I have mentioned in previous blogs (for example, this one), the right to bear arms is connected logically with the need for a militia and the desire NOT to have a standing army. It says, in effect: because we don’t want to be an occupied country we require a militia and therefore insist on the right to bear arms. No need for a militia, no need for arms.

But on a deeper level, it is disturbing that a man like Jones who professes to be an opinion-maker in this country cannot carry on a civil discussion with a person who disagrees with him. Related to this concern is the notion that he would have Morgan deported rather than defend the man’s right to have a different opinion than his about gun control. What happened to the first amendment? That amendment guarantees our right to have opinions even if they are outrageous and even stupid — witness the radio and TV talk shows. Read the Bill of Rights, people.

But in the end, it’s all about civil discourse and our inability to carry it on without watching it degenerate into a shouting match. We take our clue from TV. We are indeed a violent people, as Jones says later in that interview, and we seem to be perfectly happy to admit it and even demonstrate it with disturbing frequency.

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Free Press?

Dan Rather was fired from CBS Evening News because he was outspoken about then-President George W. Bush’s Air National Guard record. Rather then went to work for Mark Cuban’s H.D. Network where he brings occasional flashes of his old brilliance to major issues that are worthy of serious thought — like the joke that is the wall between Mexico and Texas to keep out the immigrants. He has now written a book which he is busy promoting and in a recent interview he defended his exposé of Bush’s shameful record with the National Guard;

Joining Piers Morgan for a live, face to face interview, the longtime “CBS Evening News” anchor and “60 Minutes” correspondent opened up about the much-scrutinized 2004 report on George W. Bush’s Air National Guard service record:

“We reported a true story. That’s the reason I’m no longer at CBS News,” revealed Rather. “Those who found the story uncomfortable for their partisan political purposes attacked us at what they knew to be the weakest point, which was the documents.”

I don’t care to deal with the question of whether or not Rather got the story straight about Bush’s “military” experience. What interests me here is the question of the restraints on those who report the news. We pride ourselves on our “free press,” but it may be a bit of a stretch when the President objects to something a reporter asks in a press conference and then has that reporter fired.

Thomas Jefferson was a fierce defender of free press, though when he became president he changed his tune somewhat, objecting to the way he himself was being treated in the press. Apparently when the shoe is on the other foot it hurts. Still, in his retirement in 1816 Jefferson wrote to his friend Charles Yancey, “The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves, nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man is able to read, all is safe.” Surely, Jefferson was right. A free nation requires a free press — and citizens who are literate. But if the President or any other government official can have a journalist fired for speaking his mind — or asking embarrassing questions — how free is the press, in fact?

Many years ago the Episcopal Bishop of Maryland told a group I was with that he was looking forward one day to reading an “unbiased history of the Civil War — written from the Southern point of view.” Indeed. There is no such thing as an “unbiased” history — or unbiased journalism for that matter. The Bishop knew that: he was having his little joke. Complete objectivity is an ideal that all journalists and historians should strive for but can never reach. There will always be bias and perspective as long as humans are involved.

We hear with annoying frequency that the press is “liberal,” despite the fact that wealthy corporations own much of the media and we know that wealthy corporations are hardly liberal. In addition, of course, there is “Fox News” which is nothing more or less than the right arm of the right-wing in this country. It is not possible for journalists to remain neutral on any social issue of importance, as noted. Newspaper men and women lean left and they lean right. The best we as readers can hope for is to read enough to get some semblance of balance between the two. But it is essential that the journalists be allowed to speak their mind — even if they want to castigate, or even applaud, the President. It is up to us to figure out whether or not what they say is worth reading. But when any official of this government, can silence the pen or mouth of any journalist whatever, there is need for concern. Jefferson was right: no nation can remain free without an informed citizenry. And that requires that all voices be heard.