Monday Bag o’ PC

bag of pcI’ve been thinking about political correctness lately. The legend on the bag says “Political correctness killed soldiers at Ft Hood.” Really?

We all know what happened at Fort Hood in 2009: a single gunman, an Army major serving as a psychiatrist, killed 13 of his fellow troops and injured 30. He was Arab-American and Muslim; prior to the shootings he had exchanged email with a cleric in Yemen who had suspected terrorist ties, Anwar al-Awlaki; his attack was probably an intentional act of terrorism. The FBI reportedly knew about the email prior to the shootings but did not intervene (not from political correctness, I suspect, but from the same bureaucratic ineptness and turf guarding that kept them from doing anything about the 9/11 terrorists before they struck). The gunman’s court martial has been delayed numerous times and is currently scheduled to resume in May of this year.

I don’t see political correctness there, at least in terms of obscuring the facts to hide politically inconvenient details.1 Nothing about Fort Hood, as far as I know, has been glossed over or covered up. I suspect the legend on the bag represents an earlier attempt by right-wing conspiracy theorists to stir up Obama-hatred among the faithful, much like the current Benghazi campaign (where, once again, no one in the media and the government has tried to shield us from ugly truths in the name of political correctness).

Sadly, though, there are examples of government and the media covering up things they’d rather not talk about, plenty of them. Exxon, for instance, would like everyone to stop talking about the tar sands oil pipeline rupture in Arkansas, and our government, ever a friend of big oil, is helping them by having the FAA ban overflights of the affected area to prevent journalists from taking photos of the damage. Fox News routinely ignores stories about domestic terrorism, at least when the terrorists are white. And then there’s the abortion doctor in Philadelphia, Kermit Gosnell, currently on trial for murder. Oh, he’s a bad one, the exemplar of everything pro-choice and pro-life activists alike hate and fear: his clinic was filthy, he delivered viable third-trimester babies and cut their spinal cords to kill them, he kept a collection of severed baby feet.

So what’s the PC angle here? This: a mounting drumbeat of assertions from the right that the “liberal” media are ignoring the story because it is politically inconvenient and might undermine their constant coverage of threats to abortion rights. These claims are demonstrably untrue, but you know what? When it comes to media outlets like NPR and MSNBC,2 right-wingers may have a case.

Progressives both in and out of the media have learned that we cannot have adult conversations about abortion excesses and bad apples on the left and cheaters who game the system to receive unearned benefits. Because every time we admit such things exist, the opposition immediately seizes on those admissions and starts screaming “See? SEE? We told you so!” You might think it would be a simple thing for someone like Rachel Maddow to say, “Yes, there are bad abortion providers in the system but better regulation and regular inspections will eliminate them and ensure that safe, legal abortion is available to women,” but she can’t, because every word after “there are bad abortion providers” would be drowned out by the screaming.

Disingenuous screaming doesn’t come just from the right, of course. About a month ago Ira Glass aired a disturbing story about disability on This American Life, his excellent NPR show. It was about long-term unemployed people in a small Missouri community, people who were laid off in bad times and now can’t find work because they’re in their 50s, people who have exhausted their unemployment benefits. Many of them are now living on Social Security disability benefits, and the rest are lining up to file for it. The story revealed that there a lot of people in this boat, invisible to the rest of us because they no longer officially register as unemployed, people who will now collect and live on modest disability benefits until they reach the age where they can begin collecting Social Security. It was a shocking story: I had no idea so many of the long-term unemployed were on disability. As far as I knew, they had either disappeared or found work, but no … they’re on the dole!

Which, of course, is exactly how the right sees it, and they immediately jumped on the story, lumping people on disability in with welfare cheats. But in reality, as the story made clear, Social Security disability has become the last resort of the long-term unemployed, picking up the slack when unemployment benefits and other forms of state and federal assistance run out. It’s a story we don’t want to face up to, one that would still be out of view if Ira Glass and his reporters hadn’t exposed it to light. But now it’s out there and the right is making hay with it, and progressives have turned on This American Life, picking at minor inaccuracies in the story to mask their real beef, that Ira Glass has hurt the cause and given ammo to the right. Imagine how pro-choice forces would turn on Rachel Maddow if she were to do a segment on the horrific sins of Dr. Kermit Gosnell.

And that’s why, I’m certain, Rachel Maddow and other progressive commentators have been silent on the issue. The right-wing drumbeat is growing louder; perhaps Rachel will have to talk about it soon … but the minute she does the left-wing drumbeat will begin. For now, the charge of political correctness is one that sticks. But it’s not because we don’t want to talk about it. It’s because we recognize Americans are too polarized to discuss sensitive issues as adults.


1I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that I don’t know what the bag in the thumbnail is saying. The sentiment behind “political correctness killed soldiers at Ft. Hood” comes from the Michelle Malkin sector of the nutosphere; what it means is that the Army should never have allowed a single Muslim into the ranks, because Islam=radical Islam=terrorism. One doesn’t have to follow that train of thought very far to see where it leads.

2MSNBC covered Dr. Gosnell’s trial for the first time this morning, on the Morning Joe show. The evening hosts, Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell, have yet to mention it, nor have I heard any coverage on NPR. My apologies if I missed it.

Note on editing:

In the intervals between checking Twitter for the latest rumors and updates on today’s bombings in Boston, I edited this post not once but several times. I felt that I’d jumped to some unsupported conclusions in the original version; I’ve gone back and added citations and links to support my points. I also tried to tighten up some of my typical sloppy thinking, and of course to make my language more precise.

© 2013, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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