Saturday, November 17, 2007

Let the Bad Guys Win Every Once in a While

The right-wing critics of the American academy are not stupid people. They understand the power of the sound bite, and they excel at putting their adversaries on the defensive with a few misleading statistics and a couple of carefully chosen anecdotes. A well-prepared pundit can deliver her misinformation in mere seconds, giving Sean Hannity all the time he needs to bludgeon the hapless respondent, usually some shell-shocked professor-type, all the way into the next spot break.

How easy is it? Well, Sean, the problem with the politically correct university is that they have abandoned education in favor of indoctrination. Did you know that 80% of all faculty members identify themselves as liberals or radicals? I'm sure your audience has heard of Ward Churchill, the tenured Colorado professor who actually compared the innocent victims of 9/11 to Nazis. Nazis! Our organization has done a study proving that there are hundreds of Ward Churchills out there spreading their radical propaganda on the taxpayer's dime.

And how do you respond to these disturbing charges, Dr. Elbowpatch?

Well, how do you respond? The 80% figure is probably a bit high, and there are a lot more liberals than radicals, but neither of these arguments is going to get you very far. You could point out that the Churchill case is exceptional, and that it was already adjudicated by the university, but, really, the less you say about goofy old Ward, the better. So you decide to play defense and explain that most college professors try to be fair and balanced—you are on Fox, after all—and that these additional Ward Churchills constitute only a miniscule percentage of the overall professoriate.

You have, of course, now effectively conceded every allegation raised by your opponent (maybe several hundred is a trivial number to you, Mr. Pointy-Head) and Hannity is beaming like Hillary's campaign bus just mowed down a troop of Girl Scouts. Alan Colmes has slouched off to wherever he goes each evening to count his money and salve his conscience. Sean thanks you, the theme music starts, and you spend the taxi ride home trying to understand how it all went so wrong.

Given enough time, it would not be difficult to demonstrate the shallow fraudulence of each of these claims. But you certainly can't do it in three to five minutes, especially with another guest and two hosts all competing for attention. So it comes down to a battle of bumper sticker slogans, and you lose.

Either we need better slogans, or we need to stop engaging these people on their terms.

No comments: