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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The definition of insanity

Albert Einstein once said insanity was doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result. By that definition, our media culture has gone over the edge.

Here we are around 72 hours after Jared Loughner allegedly shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 other people and the political rhetoric continues to rise in a flurry of finger-pointing that finds conservatives in a mostly defensive crouch (save the truly incorrigible flame thrower Newt Gingrich).

Can't we wait for some facts before making our minds up? Apparently not in our 24-7 cable society where shouting passes for "news" and ratings depends on who shouts the loudest.

We don't yet know whether it was politics or demons (or little bit of both) that motivated the attempted assassination of Giffords that claimed six lives, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.

But with the launch of the weekday, the airwaves were louder than ever, principally with the right insisting they haven't been responsible for the breakdown in civil discourse. And while yes, there have been some on the left who have opened their mouths, the cold, hard fact is talk radio and cable yak shows are predominately coming from the right -- and have always had a harder edge.

While both sides will continue to hammer away at each other, there is one other indisputable fact: we may be slowly inching our way to revisiting Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.'s admonition that "free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic."

That case, brought against Socialist Party Secretary Charles Schenck, was framed in a wartime setting and raised the standard of "clear and present danger." Let's just hope we are not approaching a time when we are that sort of danger to ourselves and our society.

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