I wrote a bit about the Chris Hayes flap over a Mother Jones earlier. I think he was perfectly respectful and thoughtful as always and that his point was well taken. But his apology opened up a new topic that I think is worth exploring:
It does raise a question in my mind about “social distance.” Chris apologized saying that he “sounded like a typical out-of-touch pundit seeking to discuss the civilian-military divide and the social distance between those who fight and those who don’t, I ended up reinforcing it, conforming to a stereotype of a removed pundit whose views are not anchored in the very real and very wrenching experience of this long decade of war. And for that I am truly sorry.” I’ve always thought this “social distance” was a useful thesis, helping to explain why the Villagers are so out of touch with the average person. But what I hadn’t reckoned with until now is a sort of tyranny of “walking the walk” that results once you acknowledge it.
All citizens have a right and an obligation to participate fully in American civic life. If we are now going to say that those who haven’t “walked in the shoes” of whomever is directly affected by a policy are not sanctioned to have an opinion, we are essentially saying that we are only responsible to ourselves rather than the body politic. It becomes a fragmented sort of social responsibility in which we substitute experience and expertise for democratic participation.
I hope we can go back to the old-fashioned “everybody’s entitled to their opinion” and stop with endless hissy fits, disavowels and demands for apologies. It’s exhausting
Update: I want to be perfectly clear that I believe Chris apologized completely of his own volition. He would not do it any other way. And I believe he truly meant it. On the other hand, his network is treating him very badly considering how quickly he handled it.
NBC made it extremely clear where they stood on the matter, and it wasn’t behind their employee. The Today Show ran a segment this morning on Hayes’ comments, with NBC employees as the commentators, and they universally bashed Hayes, in sometimes personal terms, for his comments, showing a real ignorance about those comments.
During a panel on Tuesday’s NBC Today, liberal pundits Star Jones, Donny Deutsch and Nancy Snyderman condemned left-wing MSNBC host Chris Hayes for suggesting fallen U.S. troops are not heroes. Deutsch was the strongest in denouncing Hayes: “I hope that he doesn’t get more viewers as a result of this…this guy is like a – if you’ve seen him…he looks like a weenie.”
Jones was clearly appalled by the offensive comments: “…the person that he [Hayes] was talking to was the officer whose job it was to call the families of fallen soldiers. Could you be more inappropriate on Memorial Day?” Snyderman voiced her disgust as well: “To criticize the young men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to protect us and then cheapen it…”
Co-host Matt Lauer actually attempted to defend Hayes: “I’m not sure he was criticizing those young men and women. He was just saying that the word is overused.” The panelists would have none of it. Snyderman declared: “But he’s wrong….Because you know what? The four of us aren’t fighting those wars. So these people are heroes to me.” Jones added: “When it’s a dead soldier, it’s not overused.”
After Lauer quoted Hayes’s apology for the remarks, Snyderman responded: “Where was that eloquence on the front hand?” Jones reiterated: “You don’t say this on Memorial Day.”
Hayes didn’t criticize troops, he merely made a point about how glorifying them without constraint has an impact on future calls for war. Lauer tried to get at that but to no avail.
The important thing here was not Nancy Snyderman or (Lord help us) Star Jones’ opinion on Chris Hayes and his views on valor and the US military, it’s that NBC scheduled this segment at all. As Inside Cable News writes:
Snydermann is an NBC News employee. Deutsch is an NBC brass favorite. And they just threw one of their own under the bus. Today staffers had to have known, or at the very least guessed, that the segment would go in this direction. Was this a subtle signal from NBC trying to distance itself from Hayes?
One could make that argument. If NBC didn’t want this issue addressed the word would have come down from the execs to Today EP Jim Bell and the word would have been “hands off”.
I’m sure that the Today Show, which is far more widely watched than a public affairs program on Sunday morning on a cable news network, got a pat on the back from the brass on that one. They know precisely how much they have riding on a consensus view of military heroism. The forces that promote and support imperialism – and here I’m talking about military contractors who make ad buys on networks like NBC – have no trouble with using the word “hero” to describe soldiers, and furthermore they know exactly what that terminology does psychologically and what it benefits.
It also benefits GE, which still owns 49% of the company. This is, after all, the network that ran Phil Donohue off the air for being against the Iraq war.
Still, this was pretty cheap. Those Today Show “hosts”basking in their superiority couldn’t shine Chris Hayes’ shoes. Yuck.