Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Radio Rmalkin

Michelle Malkin loves all the perks that come with being a media figure -- the TV appearances with people like Bill O'Reilly fawning all over her, the kid-glove treatment from journalists, the fame and recognition. It's all quite lovely, especially when it translates into dollars.

Most of all, it seems, she likes the power: the ability to disseminate her point of view and have it be not only widely read but widely adopted as "factual" by a substantial number of people. (In Malkin's case, it's almost purely the power of propaganda, since that is primarily what she purveys.)

In the end, that means her point of view is acted upon, both officially and unofficially. That, as anyone in the "mainstream media" knows, is real power.

Malkin wants that power. She just doesn't want any of the responsibility that comes with it.

And it can easily be abused. You can use your megaphone to lie shamelessly. You can use it to smear the good name of public officials. You can use it to rewrite history. And you can use it to intimidate the "little people" who don't possess the same kind of power.

Because these potential abuses exist, a sense of ethics is obligatory for anyone who possesses this power. It's why the Society of Professional Journalists has a Code of Ethics that abjures such behavior.

Violating the Code won't get you fired per se, but it certainly brings into question your professionalism and honor. It also brands you, forever, as deeply irresponsible.

Particularly when it comes to using that power to attack ordinary citizens and subject them not just to ridicule but actual threats and potential violence.

As Georgia 10 points out, there is an entire section in the Code urging restraint when it comes to the media's power to intrude on and affect people's private lives.

This is especially the case when it comes to handing out people's personal contact information: phone numbers, e-mail addresses, even home addresses.

Because without that restraint, mass media can become an instrument of humankind's worst impulses -- including mass violence and genocide.

Remember, most recently, what happened in Rwanda: the owners of talk radio stations, working in the interest of the moneyed class, used their megaphones to target individuals who were then slaughtered by mobs armed with machetes:
"In Rwanda," Gowing writes, "hate radio ... systematically laid the groundwork for mass slaughter from the moment it was licensed in July 1993." It also helped facilitate the genocide, as RTLM broadcast names, addresses and license plate numbers of Tutsi targets. "Killers often carried a machete in one hand and a transistor radio in the other," according to Power.

RTLM and the propaganda it broadcast did not happen by accident. Rather, the founding of the station in 1992 by Hutu hard-liners closely associated with the government and its subsequent activities were "directly promoted by government authorities" as "the political and military elite established RTLM as part of this broader strategy to thwart the impact of internal reform." Further evidence of this strategy is found in the fact that prior to the genocide the government distributed free radios around the country in order to allow Rwandans to tune into RTLM, and that RTLM was "allowed to broadcast on the same frequencies as the national radio when Radio Rwanda [the national state-owned station] was not transmitting." Though officially private, RTLM "was essentially the tool of Hutu extremists from the government, military and business communities."

There is a good reason that using the power of mass media to expose individual citizens' private lives to abuse and threats is considered unethical: It represents unchecked and abusive power. No one interested in holding the public trust should either want or seek it.

Yet this, of course, is exactly what Malkin did this week in publishing, on her blog, the home phone numbers of three students who led anti-military protests on the campus of UC-Santa Cruz.

Predictably, the students were deluged with hate mail and phone calls, including a number of death threats.

Malkin not only refused to take the numbers down -- in response, she reverted to her timeworn victimization schtick, posting some of the nasty e-mails she received in return and pretending there was nothing wrong or unethical in her behavior.

We're all too familiar with this routine. After all, it's what the entirety of her book Unhinged was predicated upon. Malkin, as I said then, is like the lunatic who walks around the public square and pokes people in the eye with a sharp stick, and then is shocked, shocked, that anyone would respond with anger and outrage.

Of course, there's more than ample reason to question Malkin's professionalism. Indeed, this isn't the first time Malkin has shown a predilection for abusing the power of her large readership.

Back when Unhinged first came out, I noticed a little anomaly:
Y'see, the early reports on the book indicated that not only would Malkin feature nasty, ugly quotes from nasty, ugly liberals on the back cover, but it would include their e-mail addresses.

And that's what they showed when Malkin appeared on O'Reilly's show the other day. O'Reilly even specifically mentioned it.

But when my copy arrived, the nasty quotes were there ... but not the e-mail addresses.

We've never been told why the addresses were removed, but one has to assume that Regnery did so on advice of counsel. It's also my understanding that one of the scurrilous and ugly quotes was actually penned by a 14-year-old, though I haven't confirmed that; but it certainly underscores the nature of this kind of retaliatory abuse of the power of mass communication.

Malkin's not the first right-wing blogger to try the Rwanda radio routine on one of their perceived enemies. Remember that the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler (who resides on Malkin's blogroll) attempted a similar tactic against someone deemed "despicable" enough to warrant having someone visit them at their home.

I've seen this tactic being used by radio talkers in Montana as well:
The primary targets of Stokes' venom, though, were conservationists and environmentalists, for whom not even the most appalling comparison nor the most groundless accusation was adequate: Stokes constantly referred to them as Nazis, and the central thrust of all his attacks was that "greens" were responsible for nearly everything that was wrong with life in Western Montana, particularly the depressed economy. Indeed, Stokes has referred frequently to Patriot conspiracy theories, and not merely on the subject of environmentalists (who are viewed by militia types as a cult intent on enslaving the rest of mankind); he's also trotted out Patriot theories on such subjects as taxation and the Constitution.

Unsurprisingly, his audience reflects this kind of proto-fascist orientation. Many of his callers have outright advocated violence against conservationists, and Stokes has encouraged them to do so.

The real-life consequences of all this talk made quite clear that this was not merely "entertainment," and that Stokes' "hot talk" was doing more than just garnering ratings. Beginning in the summer of 2001, local conservationists began receiving a series of death threats, some delivered in person, others by phone. Car windows were smashed in, tires slashed. Strange men would show up in people's yards at twilight, then run off when confronted. People's homes were vandalized. Others would be followed home by men in pickups or on motorcycles. Sometimes the teenage children of the targets were threatened.

And egging all of these people on was John Stokes. Sometimes callers would announce on his show that a local conservationist was on vacation, which would present an opportunity to "visit their home." In others, a caller would simply give the home address of an environmental activist who had just been vilified as "Satanic" on the air by Stokes.

It's doubtful that Michelle Malkin has ever heard of John Stokes. No doubt she cooked up the idea of publishing these students' personal-contact info -- which they gave out in a press release that was clearly intended not for broadcast but for media contact purposes -- more or less on the fly. It just felt good, so she did it.

But it fits in with a pattern of behavior, not just by Malkin but by right-wing pundits generally, of pretending that ethics don't really matter -- or that longtime ethical standards just don't exist.

Maybe she just spent too much time hanging out with Ben Domenech when he was editing Unhinged.

But it's clear that she has a little problem. No, make that a big problem.

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