Be Careful, Mom is Listening

One of the rediscovered joys of living in Arkansas is the editorial page of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the state’s major newspaper. There has been a history of outstanding editorial writers for the paper and I want to share with you today’s lead editorial entitled “You’re on the air, ma’am”:

Those of us who work in newspapers have so many reasons to be grateful when we compare our lot with that of our perfectly coiffed counterparts in television. Or the job requirements of a radio interviewer who has to record the views of newsmakers and others. We’ver never had to do a sound check in our life, and most of us don’t have to show up for work lugging tons of equipment instead of just a pen and notepad. We’ve also been spared the pressure of fielding phone calls during live broadcasts. Our nerves couldn’t take it.

When somebody wants to sound off in the paper, editors get a chance to look at their copy first. And think about it. And think before writing in general. (It usually helps.) Those are advantages that the hard-pressed producers at, say, C-SPAN may wish they had.

Earlier this week, on Tuesday, that network of record had yet another one of those cookie-cutter you-holler-at-me-and-I-holler-at-you shows billed as a discussion but that generally turn out to be nothing but angry statements fired off by all the participants in turn. Like ships passing in the night–and launching barrages as they go.

You know the kind of program: Two or more well-groomed argumentarians just yell over each other. As if they’d had no raisin’ at all. Call ’em graduates of the Jim Carville/Chris Matthews School of Debate. Their game plan: Talk first, fast and last and even when your opponent is talking. Ta-da! You win. This isn’t so much a debate as a kind of verbal demolition derby. The best way to watch one of these shows is not to–and certainly don’t let the children see. They’re rowdy enough on the playground.

You can find these kinds of programs on ‘most every channel. In a kind of Gresham’s Law of public discourse, the cheaper rhetoric will drive the more valuable kind out of the market every time. Even over on ESPN–a sports network!–you’ll find something called First Take in the mornings, and woe betide anybody stuck in a doctor’s office who has to listen to it. People tend to be nervous enough in doctors’ offices without being subjected to ill-mannered dialogue billed as a panel discussion.

But if you absolutely had to be stuck watching one of these shoutfests, it should have been Washington Journal the other morning. The shtick that day: Two brothers, Dallas and Brad Woodhouse, were going at it. One is a Republican, the other a Democrat, and somebody thought it would be entertaining to have brothers argue politics. (Yes, these shows have come to that.) Think Crossfire meets Jerry Springer. Which brother was which, and which the Democrat and which the Republican, we forget if we ever bothered to learn. We don’t pay that much attention.

During the show, host Steve Scully stopped the verbal flood for a second as he welcomed a caller to the program, one identified only as “Joy from Raleigh.” Ms. Joy from Raleigh began scolding the two brothers for fighting on air. At which point Dallas Woodhouse realized . . . .

“Oh, God, it’s Mom.”

And indeed it was. ‘Twas their mother on the phone. And it was no prank. Or even planned. Apparently Mom just dialed the call-in number and got through. And she laid into the boys as any Southern lady would do when her children are embarrassing her in public.

“I’m your mother and I disagree that all families are like ours,” she started. “I don’t know many families that are fighting at Thanksgiving. I was very glad that this Thanksgiving was the year that you two were supposed to go to your in-laws. And I’m hoping you’ll have some of this out of your system when you come here for Christmas. I would really like a peaceful Christmas. And I love you both.”

Let us hereby nominate the call as the best we’ve heard on a political program. Ever. Although considering the competition, it was a shoo-in for that distinction.

Thank you, Ms. Joy. You’ve given us all an early Christmas gift. Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men. Especially when they’re your kids.

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