Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sarah Palin and MDWhistleblower in the Crosshairs: Do I Have an ‘Image Problem’?

I recently posted a piece entitled, Health Care Reform in the Crosshairs, when I opined that Sarah Palin’s political ads with crosshairs superimposed on selected congressional districts were acceptable political discourse. Click on the link above to view the image that accompanied the post.

A reader sent me a private email suggesting that the crosshairs image was distasteful, particularly as one of the crosshairs was placed over Congresswoman Giffords’ district. The congresswoman was attacked by an evil murderer, and we all pray for her continued recovery and for the other victims and their families of this unspeakable attack.

In the private commenter’s own words, I think you should take down Sarah Palin's targets map on your most recent blog post. I don't understand its connection to what you're writing in any case. But the targets are aimed at congressional districts, one of which is Rep. Giffords’. Since she was actually shot and almost died, in seems a bit distasteful... This reader gave me a relevant link, which I provide here for those interested.

I had no knowledge of the location of the crosshairs, but I think that the image was the right one for the post. Should I remove it as was suggested? I am inclined to leave it be, as I do not believe that this ad can be rationally linked to the subsequent senseless violence that occurred. Moreover, military and firearm metaphors are omnipresent, as my recent post notes. Should they all be stricken from our lexicon? Sporting events are often reported and described in military terms, as are so many other events in our society. How many times do we read or personally describe an athletic outcome as a massacre? If we sanitize our communication to remove words, phrases and images that could also exist in a violent context, then life would be rather bland. In addition, we would argue until the end of time whether a particular phrase was over the decency threshold, an issue that our courts wrestle with every day.

Even the president recently described Governor Scott Walker’s plan to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public union members as an ‘assault on unions’. I guess that the word assault was deemed acceptable by the administration and passed through focus group review. A week after the president spoke, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis remarked at a speech to the Democratic National Committee on February 27th, “We help those embattled states right now where public employees are under assault.”

The liberal organization issued this statement to rally protesters against efforts to curtail union collective bargaining rights.

“We demand an end to the attacks on worker's rights and public services across the country.”

In my state of Ohio, where Governor Kasich is also pushing back against unions, protesters’ statements include:

“Kill the bill.”

“They’re trying to take away what we fought for all of these years.”

The italics in the above quotes are mine.

Obviously, there is speech that is over the line. I agree with the commenter’s implication that just because we have the right to express certain speech, doesn’t mean that it is right to do so. However, I believe that if removing the crosshair image from my post is considered the proper standard, then we will be censoring vast amounts of expression that deserves to be heard.

I thank this reader, whom I know personally, for offering her view to me, and now to the readers. I hope that they will share their views here also. Was the crosshairs image over the line? Should I take aim it and take it out? Let me rephrase that incendiary query. Should I gently and respectfully delete it?


Marilyn Mann said...


Anonymous said...

In the case of organized unions, they did literally fight to remove children from factories and create decent work and living environments. Plutocrats of the not too distant past were not opposed to the use of violence to effect their desires.

With regards to the use of such metaphors in sports, the Colosseum has always been a useful outlet for venting the bloodlust of the plebians, in lieu of disembowling the ruling class.

No easy answers exist to such questions of rhetoric. I suppose the close proximity of the medicine man and politician to death makes the liberal use of related metaphors more likely. However, the use of such heavy handed imagery to address such thorny and complex issues makes an "explosive" outcome more likely.

A well educated person need not resort to such easy parlor tricks to make a point.

Toni Brayer, MD said...

While I do think hate talk stimulates uneducated, simple minded (and insane) people to violence, I don't think the use of such words as "assault","fought", "attack" are forms of hate. Calling people names, using terms like "Barack Hussein", "faggot" are, in fact, inflammatory and should not be used.

The answer to all of this is education. My 15 year old son is learning about "propaganda"in school. He had no idea what it was and how it is used. Now he will understand mind manipulation (hopefully) and be educated. When we reduce complex ideas into simple slogans ("Obamacare", "War on Drugs","Bringing Democracy to the World","Death Panels", we are catering to the uneducated that seek simple answers. These are complex problems. Americans are being dumbed down by the media.

Thoughtful blogs such as yours appeal to people who can need to delete.

The Medical Contrarian said...

It is a useful phase which conveys relatively unambiguous meaning to a broad audience, virtually all of whom understand that it does not mean a gun is trained on someone. The random event associated randomly with one particularly divisive person's use of the term will quickly be forgotten. Hopefully so will she.

The message of your piece was clear and the only problem with your use of the phrase was that it appears to have distracted at least one person from the important message.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of whether others are using these metaphors, my father taught me that "two wrongs don't make a right." If all commentators tried to avoid using violently charged language, I believe this would only be good for our public discourse.

In any case, even if you believe this language to be acceptable, I would think about how the victims' families feel when they see that graphic. Although it's unlikely that they would read this post, on the off chance they did, I wouldn't want to cause them any more pain.

A. Bailey said...

The whole "civility" issue was nothing more than a cynical attempt of the administration to sway public opinion against one of it's political opponents.

From what I can tell, it didn't work. People may support a Democratic political agenda but I think there isn't a lot of respect for it's leaders, even among the party faithful.

Michael Kirsch, M.D. said...

Comments appreciated. Looks like the Contrarian and A.Bailey will be neutralizing each other's votes.

@anonymous, sounds like you received some sound paternal advice over the years. Yes, it would be painful for the family to view the Palin ad, but even moreso after the media has hyped it up and magnified its importance. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that hateful speech by protesters at the funeral of a fallen serviceman is constitutional, although most would agree that it is reprehensible. I know that you are not arguing that Palin doesn't have the right to the ad, or that I don't have the right to use it on a posting. Personally, I think the media has created this issue, which is one of their recurrent failings to generate buzz and interest in them. Thanks for your view.

Anonymous said...

Here's an idea, when are conservatives going to take on America's most powerful union, by far, the AMA, the greediest profession/closed shop known to human beings. They control numbers through the LCME, they keep their incomes stratospheric.

Everyone else is forced to race to the bottom, except for the thieving doctor monopolists.

Michael Kirsch, M.D. said...

So much anger... Is that why you're anonymous?

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