Saturday, April 28, 2007

Book review: The Silence of the Rational Center

I really wanted to like this book, whose subtitle is "Why American Foreign Policy is Failing". The notion that there is a group of people in the actual political center whose voice is going unheard is an appealing one to those of us interested in the future of this country. Unfortunately, the authors are never quite able to define the "Rational Center" to my satisfaction, and some of their conclusions about what "silences" those whom they claim are in the center are muddled.

The authors first describe how "cable news" has failed to provide a home for rational discourse, which is true enough. But their criticism of the medium focuses on shows such as "Hannity and Colmes", the "Bill O'Reilly Show", and "The McLaughlin Group", and they argue that it is these shows' formats that are to blame--there simply isn't enough time devoted to any particular issue to provide in-depth analysis. A more complete analysis of these shows, however, proves only that it is unlikely that any such analysis would be welcome. That all of the shows in question are hosted by well-known figures on the right of the political spectrum, and their guest lists are dominated by those who are similarly minded goes noticeably and damagingly unmentioned. (Heck, "The McLaughlin Group" isn't even on cable.) The authors then go on to excoriate think tanks, of all things, for forgetting their primary mission of education and study, for similar reasons. Once again, however, the authors fail to point out that the funding and missions for almost all of the organizations that they mention are on the right wing.

The authors betray this apparent slant when they cover three public speakers on the left in a chapter inflammatorily titled "An Unreliable Elite". While cable news and think tanks silence the center due merely to their structure and format, people like Noam Chomsky and Paul Krugman do so due to "bias", "prejudice", and "relentless hostility" (all quotes from page 141 in reference to Krugman). This hypocritical attitude makes one question the authors actual intention in writing the book; are they trying to discern an actual movement to stifle rational thought after all? I found it hard to accept their arguments . . .

For a much better analysis of the media and its part in suppressing political awareness, read Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media? instead.

No comments:

Search the Book Talk archives!