March 15, 2019

Source: Wikimedia Commons

On Wednesday, The Washington Examiner published an op-ed by Kimberly Ross, “No sacred cows: Don’t tolerate Tucker Carlson’s indefensible words just because he’s conservative.” Ross starts off on a reasonable note:

Outrage mobs are nothing new and have grown in popularity as the country grows more politically and culturally divided.

Nearly every week, something sets off one side that is often applauded by the other. The following week, the same thing will occur, albeit with the roles reversed. It’s yet another part of this exhausting, 24-hour news cycle society that we’re immersed in.

There is much to be said about not fanning the flames of each and every little annoyance, faux spectacle, and indignation. After all, it’s bound to occur again, and probably very soon.

This is well said. Very little “outrage” is worth the trouble. Most of it is unnecessary, serving no constructive purpose but only making life more difficult.

Ross continues:

There are times, however, when the offended majority is correct. In these moments, it does no good to fold back into tribalism and declare them wrong simply because they’re the opposition. This kind of consistency is what ultimately brings about much-needed credibility. Taking each incident as it comes, and weighing whether or not to vocally criticize, is important.

Ross is certainly right that we shouldn’t allow our perceptions and evaluations of matters to be determined by “tribalism.” For if we want to understand the truth and advance the good, it is necessary to be disinterested and try to understand things in their particular contexts.

The problem, though, is the implication that just because “the offended majority is correct,” it is therefore worth criticizing someone or something. Notice that Ross doesn’t provide any criterion for distinguishing between when “the offended majority” should criticize moral wrongs and when it should avoid “fanning the flames of…indignation.”

Moreover, she has a poor understanding of what she thinks merits criticism, namely, Tucker Carlson’s language. According to Ross,

Carlson’s statements from several years ago, unearthed by Media Matters for America—an extremely biased organization that only holds one side accountable—were indefensible. In the radio clips, he expresses rather permissive views on child marriage, rape, and more than once uses a derogatory sexual term to describe a female.

“Refreshing, isn’t it, to see a man with a backbone for a change?”

This description of what Carlson said is rather inaccurate and lazy. To begin with, Ross doesn’t tell us that Carlson was speaking about Warren Jeffs, the President of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Here is what Carlson actually said on the Bubba the Love Sponge radio program back in 2009:

I am not defending underage marriage at all. I just don’t think it’s the same thing exactly as pulling a child from a bus stop and sexually assaulting that child…. The rapist, in this case, has made a lifelong commitment to live and take care of the person, so it is a little different. I mean, let’s be honest about it….

He’s not accused of touching anybody; he is accused of facilitating a marriage between a 16-year-old girl and a 27-year-old man. That’s the accusation. That’s what they’re calling felony rape. That’s bullshit. I’m sorry. Now, this guy may be a child rapist. I’m just telling you that arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old and a 27-year-old is not the same as pulling a stranger off the street and raping her.

To the disinterested reader, it is clear that Carlson is not advocating “underage marriage” and “child rape.” Nor are his views on these subjects “rather permissive.” He is saying that “underage marriage” is not the same thing as, and is a lesser evil than, “pulling a child from a bus stop and sexually assaulting that child.” So too with “facilitating” “underage marriage.”

Ross may find these distinctions “indefensible,” but it won’t do to just assume that they are so: She needs to make an argument. Otherwise she will lack “much-needed credibility.”

Carlson also said that “if a guy wants to be polygamist, that’s kind of his business.” Of course, polygamy is illegal in this country, but that something is illegal doesn’t show that it’s wrong in a moral sense. If Carlson has or had a “rather permissive” view on polygamy, and Ross takes issue with it, then, once again, she needs to make an argument, instead of getting her condemnation on the cheap.

Undoubtedly “rather permissive” was Carlson’s admiration for the sexual prowess of “a 13-year-old [boy], who was, I guess, molested, they’re saying, by his [female] teacher, who had sex with him 28 times in one week.” In context, however, it’s obvious that Carlson is being jocular with two other men, tipping his hat to a boy who was successfully hot for teacher. This, too, Ross omits to mention.

Carlson rightly pointed out the gender difference in teacher-student sexual relations. Although there are vulnerable 13-year-old boys, boys in general are not nearly as vulnerable as girls, and many a boy who is said to be “molested” by his female teacher is surely glad for the act. Needless to say, the complexity of Carlson’s take on this subject is not captured by Ross.

As for Carlson’s “derogatory” remarks about Hillary Clinton, Paris Hilton, and other women, we should ask ourselves: Seeing as there are both women and men who merit contempt, is it necessarily wrong to describe them as such? Whatever you think about this, I would emphasize the context. Carlson was on a radio program with two other men, and as with the women on, say, The Jersey Shore, whose behavior is offensive to many, people need not tune in.

This is not to “excuse” such remarks and behavior. The question is what is to be gained, if anything, by criticizing them. Offense is the price of free speech and of freedom generally.

Knowing that the left is coming after him only because he is such an effective conservative pundit, Tucker Carlson has refused to apologize. Kudos to him. Refreshing, isn’t it, to see a man with a backbone for a change?

There is a wonderful story about the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. A student at Cambridge University came up to him out of nowhere and began to ask him questions about his philosophy. “What newspaper are you with?” the fierce man snapped.

In a letter to his friend and former student Norman Malcolm (himself an excellent philosopher), Wittgenstein said:

What is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc., & if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life, if it does not make you more conscientious than any…journalist in the use of the DANGEROUS phrases such people use for their own ends.

Wittgenstein’s contempt for journalists was justified then, and would have been even more so today. It does, however, point to a model for how journalists should strive to do their work—namely, with the sort of rigor and objectivity that we associate with scientists and philosophers.

This does not mean we have to eschew value judgments. They are, after all, essential to opinion journalism, and like philosophy and science, all journalism presupposes the judgment that the activity is worth doing. But it does mean we should take our work much more seriously than Kimberly Ross does in her column, which is marred by loose thinking, contextual ignorance, and facile moralizing.


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