Angry rants mean big TV ratings, but little progress in civil discussion
An interview featured last week on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight illustrated just how far the level of public discourse has sunk in the U.S. and Canada in recent years.
Viewers were treated to an awful spectacle as gun rights activist and radio host Alex Jones yelled his way through a 15-minute interview with host Piers Morgan.
Morgan has made headlines for his strong anti-gun stance in recent months, and particularly for labeling guest Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, “a very stupid man” during a Dec. 19 interview.
But he was on his best behaviour on his Jan. 7 program, and Jones’s rants made him seem like a diplomat in comparison.
Jones was on the show to discuss his views on gun rights, as the man responsible for starting a petition to have Morgan deported to his native England.
Wagging his finger and shouting through much of the discussion, Jones likened the modern debate on gun control to the Texas Revolution of the 1830s, in which his ancestors took part.
“Piers, don’t try what your ancestors did before,” he hollered, inviting the host to come shooting with him and “become an American and join the republic.”
Jones also compared the situation to the American Revolution and told Morgan that it would happen again “if you try to take our firearms.”
Despite Morgan’s efforts to calm him down, Jones launched into repeated loud tirades, calling the host “a hatchet man of the New World Order,” challenging him to a boxing match and even mocking his accent.
Clearly, CNN and other media outlets are interested in attracting as many viewers, readers and listeners as possible. But here’s my question: what was accomplished by airing this interview?
I struggled through the entire 15-minute clip. The only thing I learned was that as someone who doesn’t subscribe to cable TV, I’m apparently not missing much.
I think it’s irresponsible to devote a quarter-hour of prime-time television to expose viewers to the ramblings of an immature, unstable and paranoid man.
Morgan and Jones had precious little time to debate issues of importance, mainly because Jones continually interrupted the host, whose primary tactic appeared to be to ask his guest to provide statistics.
But CNN’s not the only guilty party. Check the comment sections on the websites of any of Canada’s major newspapers, where any story on federal affairs is practically guaranteed to degenerate into a childish shouting match.
Even recent articles on seemingly non-divisive affairs like Olivia Chow’s facial paralysis have drawn an angry crowd, eager to rehash their viewpoints on controversial figures like Rob Ford, Stephen Harper, and Chow’s late husband Jack Layton. (So much for that antiquated warning against speaking ill of the dead.)
It’s tempting to be cynical, and it’s human nature to look for a snappy comeback or an opportunity to put someone else in their place.
But if we ever want to make progress on critical issues like gun control, poverty or Native rights, we need to relearn the lost art of debate.
Insulting someone won’t convince them of the validity of your viewpoint, nor will it earn you their respect.
The goal of a debate is not necessarily to convince or persuade someone of your view, but to have an honest discussion about an issue where multiple sides can be presented and handled respectfully.
A shouting match might translate into great ratings or lots of web hits, but a change in the right direction can only come when people can sit down and have a reasoned, rational discussion.
Otherwise, we’re just headed nowhere fast.
Joel van der Veen can be reached at 691-1256.