Why the death of why? Celebrified journalism & right-wing lynch mobs

by David Sirota, Talking Points Memo

Andrea Batista Schlesinger's book, The Death of Why, could not come out at a more appropriate time. It's premise has unfortunately become a truism - in the American Idiocracy, we have stopped asking even the simplest questions, much less the tough ones like "why."

Instead of offering up examples that prove Andrea's thesis, let's just take a moment and ask a meta question - why the death of why? In other words, why have we stopped asking questions in a democracy that gives citizens the historically rare chance to inquire?

Part of it has to do with changes in our media - the chief institution that is supposed to exist specifically to ask questions on behalf of society. For years, the media fulfilled this role. But in the last decade, journalistic inquisition has been murdered on the altar of celebrified stenography and power worshiping. We saw this in the lead up to the Iraq War, and we still see it today. Indeed, refusing to ask questions has become such a part of political reporting, that political reporters regularly advertise it. Notice that just today, ABC News pointed out that "the media" - of which it is a part "loves a good fight - even when the charges are unfounded." In other words, the media will promote conflict without even asking whether the conflict is grounded in any fact.

Another part of it has to do with willful ignorance - the explicit desire to avoid inquiry, and the hostility to those who embrace it. I've dealt with this part of the death of why just this week.

During an appearance on CNN, I was asked why Van Jones was originally targeted for attack by conservatives. I responded by suggesting that right-wing political terrorists like Glenn Beck and their lynch mobs originally went after him, in part, because Jones is black. I said this because it's the only logical conclusion that can be drawn when the Jones affair is put into the broader context - that is, when you are willing to ask the bigger "why" question.

The persecution of Jones, of course, is the latest in a racially-tinged campaign against Obama and the administration - a campaign involving allegations that Obama is/was foreign, Muslim, trained in a Madrassas, a black nationalist/socialist, affiliated with allegedly radical African American militants (Jeremiah Wright/ACORN), and a Jesse Jackson-like presidential candidate. And this same lynch mob's next target is Mark Lloyd, a mid-level staffer working at the FCC on diversity issues who is black. When you ask the question of why Jones was originally targeted, and you actually try to answer that question seriously, you see - as Tim Wise's brilliant article further proves - that race is a major factor.

However, in the 48 hours since this CNN appearance, I've been inundated with hate mail insisting that the original targeting of Jones had absolutely nothing to do with race at all - and that all the other race-tinged attacks on Obama have nothing to do with race either. The right simply does not want the "why" question asked - and will try to intimidate anyone from asking or honestly exploring it.

Certainly, there are many other reasons than these two that explain the death of why, which is why Andrea's book is so necessary in the first place. However, these two particular forces - media and right-wing hostility - are among the most pernicious because they aren't passive. Their role in the death of why is calculated and not inadvertent - and that will make them the hardest to overcome.

article originally published at Talking Points Memo.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey