Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lawrence O'Donnell's Disappointing Performance regarding the Rolling Stone Tsarnaev cover

With the media still in full discussion mode about Rolling Stone's Dzhokar Tsarnaev cover story and photo - a discussion which I think is a good thing - I have to note the surprisingly poor performance of Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC last night in a segment he did about this issue.

Angered by the apparent last-minute cancelation by Rolling Stone or Janet Reitman (who wrote the cover story) of Reitman's scheduled appearance on his show, O'Donnell proceeded to lambast not only the cover photo but the content of Reitman's article, declaring "If you miss this issue of Rolling Stone, you will miss nothing." He ostentatiously refused to show the controversial cover on his air.

I don't blame O'Donnell for being annoyed and even angry about the cancellation, which I think was not a good move by Rolling Stone or whoever said no to Reitman's being on the show.  It's always better to confront and engage your critics, rather than giving them the last word.

But this is now especially and manifestly the case for "The Last Word," the name of O'Donnell's MSNBC show.  Rather than presenting a reasoned critique, O'Donnell allowed his anger to cloud his judgement and demeaned himself and his show by making statements that are palpably false.  A pro like O'Donnell should have known and done better.

I happen to think that Reitman's article is an outstanding report - a story that encompasses the best in journalism in research and evocative writing. But even if I didn't have that opinion, I would be hard pressed to the point of being utterly unable to say I would "miss nothing" if I hadn't read the lengthy story  - even a quick reading provides a wealth of significant details in Tsarnaev's life which I and I'd wager most people hadn't seen before.

Further, O'Donnell's diatribe against the article and Rolling Stone empowers the most reactive and regressive elements of our society.   Rolling Stone has received death threats - will O'Donnell denounce those?   CVS, Stop & Shop, and other stores have pulled this issue of Rolling Stone from their shelves. Is that the kind of America we want, where media are pulled from shelves, where words are withheld, so people cannot decide on their own whether their contents are of value?

What I would have expected from O'Donnell, as combatant in many wars against censorship himself, is, yes, a critique of Rolling Stone and this article if that is what he believes, but a defense of its right to publish this article as it saw fit, and a call for people to read the article, look at the photo, and decide for themselves.

See also Why the Rolling Stone cover with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is Helpful

PS - And this excellent analysis - especially the final paragraph - by Ian Crouch in The New Yorker
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