Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Hatchets and Hardball

Disclaimer - this is one of my famous "hot take" posts that shows up weeks after the take has cooled off. I know it's much less likely to get read this way, but I feel like the distance shifts focus from the "hot" to the "take," which, I really believe, is better for everyone. Anyway, I'm trying to stay on schedule with these posts despite the looming D3hoops post-season, and this one was mostly formed already. Here you go:

I cannot bring to mind a policy position of Mike Pence's with which I agree. There may be some, but they're not prominent. I find his political philosophy to be odious, ill-conceived, and frankly, dangerous. Shoot, having run and now serving with Trump, there's a whole lot of reason to question his once potentially upstanding moral character. Needless to say, this is not a guy for whom I've ever had much sympathy.

However, I read the big attack piece from Rolling Stone that came out after the inauguration and I find myself deeply on Pence's side. This is entirely the fault of the author, whose practice here is pretty common, but really offends me as, I guess, a working journalist.

Rolling Stone is provocative and unconventional; they push the envelope in a lot of ways, but, in my experience, they have a long reputation for really good work. The place might have its eccentricities when it comes to style and approach, but I've always found their standards to be above those of perhaps similar publications.

This is a long piece. It details a whole bunch of things Pence has done or said that are probably offensive to the general readership of Rolling Stone. As I said before, I'd likely agree that a lot of his past is not something for which I'd be proud. What irks me the most, though, is that when you've got such a plethora of topics to cover - legitimate topics that Pence himself wouldn't quabble* with on a factual basis - there is absolutely no need to delve into the sketchier issues that could easily be framed in multiple ways.

I get it if you need to pad the story - either it's not long enough or the angle you're going for isn't as well supported by the juicy stuff as the periphery and you need cover. That makes sense. It's less than ideal, but sometimes, with deadlines, you have to make do with what you've got and not with what you'd want. But this piece is long and full of substance, yet they still have to pile on with claims and issues that are more likely to distract from the overall strength of the piece than help it.

It reads like a hatchet job. It reeks of angst and bitterness. It's the kind of thing you write solely for people who agree with you. Maybe that's what Rolling Stone has become, but this would upset even if it were self-published on an angelfire blog (which, apparently still exist).

Again, I'm not objecting because I'm a fan of Mike Pence or believe that the tone and message of the piece are necessarily wrong. I don't. I'm offended because it's an example of shooting yourself in the foot, argumentatively. It's bad logic; it's bad case-building; and it's mean. I don't like meanness - and it certainly has no place in reporting.

The biggest issue I took was with the narrative surrounding his campaign spending early on. They do make sure to say that what Pence did wasn't and isn't illegal - he used campaign funds to pay personal expenses, bills and the like. Yeah, it's bad optics, sure, but it's a terrible argument that the guy is somehow hypocritical or crooked. More likely, he was a young guy who couldn't afford to both run for public office and also support his family. That happens. Campaigning, even for small, low-level positions, can be a full time job. As someone who's never made much and occasionally contemplated public service, money is the number one concern. You can't win without it and I don't have it.

Why would we want to make this fact of Pence's past some giant bogeyman just because we don't like the guy? This scenario could and does literally happen to anyone, of any party or no party at all. It's an economic issue that pales, pales, pales in comparison to the giant, clear-cut case you've already made in the same piece. It's like you're saying poor people shouldn't run for office when I'm guessing our government would be far better off if our elected representatives included more people who couldn't afford to be there on their own dime.

This article doesn't bother me on a political level - I have no inclination to really side with either the author or the subject (although, as I've said, I'm no fan of the subject - and I've never heard of the author). It's just bad, inefficient, poorly constructed argument and that offends me as a person with a brain. Why, when there are so, so many legitimate critiques of a public figure, would a writer feel the need to shoehorn manipulated narrative into an already incredibly long piece?

It's not like the article hasn't proven its point well before this point. People are either going to agree or disagree, but that will have nothing to do with the persuasiveness of these last few paragraphs. It just makes you look petty and vindictive and hurts your credibility.

Maybe it's a lesson for all of us. Think, people. Let's not let our emotions or our subjectivities cloud our reason, judgement, or kindness. People are far more divided right now by the way in which we talk to and about each other than any actual policy or ideological difference. Let's not feed the beast. You can be serious and assertive without being mean - in fact, it'll only help your standing and reputation, at least among other people who can see through the junk.

Rant over.

Aren't you glad I waited almost three weeks to put this up. Imagine what the post would've looked like if I'd done it right away! You're welcome.

*No, I meant quabble. I really and truly did. Quibble doesn't cut it here.

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