On his Rolling Stone blog, infamous rhetorical bomb-thrower Matt Taibbi seems to be feeling a tad guilty over his journalistic methods, in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords assassination attempt in Tuscon.
As a member of the political media, and a vitriol-spewing one at that, the Tucson shooting immediately made me ask myself the question: do I personally do anything to add to this obvious problem of a hypercharged, rhetorically overheated political atmosphere? And the unfortunate answer I came up with was, maybe. I’ve always told myself that what I do is different from what someone like Rush does, because I don’t target classes of people and try not to exempt anyone (even myself) from criticism, or favor either party.
I’ve also counted on the belief that anyone who’s willing to devote the mental energy to even follow whatever wild rhetoric I’m using is probably also smart enough to tell the difference between reality and hyperbole. I also hope that anyone reading my articles will get the underlying message that I’m pretty sure — I hope I’m sure, anyway — I’m conveying at all times, i.e. that violence is irresponsible, that we should use our brains instead of baseball bats to solve problems, etc.
But while I tell myself all these things, I also know that I would never talk to my wife or my mother the way I talk to Lloyd Blankfein. Is it ever right to just wind up and let someone have it with all you’ve got? That’s a question that I think has to be asked. It’s certainly possible that we’ve all become too used to unrestrained rhetoric as a form of entertainment, and people like me live right in the middle of the guilt parabola there. Most all of us are grownups and can handle extreme argument, but clearly some people are not, and obviously I’m not just talking about Jared Loughner.
Methinks Taibbi is being a little hard on himself here. Taibbi’s invective is backed up by extensive reporting of his own doing. He’s not just spinning other people’s fact-finding to fit a narrow political agenda–a la Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, ect. He’s presenting the facts that he’s uncovered in an interesting and, yes, entertaining way–and assigning blame to individuals he feels deserving. Because, let’s be honest, there are powerful political and business figures in America that are gutting this country and need to be held to account. If Lloyd Blankfein felt any shame over his behavior, he would stop doing what he’s doing. He isn’t. Factually calling attention to the misdeeds of the powerful, and doing so in a matter that publicly embarrasses them, hampering their ability to conduct business as usual, is an important function of our democracy. Taibbi does this. There’s a huge difference between uncovering facts–and marketing those facts in an entertaining package–and baselessly fomenting hate for the sake of ratings or political hackery.