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The Carletonian

A response to John Harris’s Convocation address

<hn Harris came to Carleton to lambast the so-called “Freak Show,” the members of the media responsible for vicious and outrageous attacks. However, during his address at Convocation he showed a reprehensible lack of concern for propagating one of the worse slurs to come out of the media in recent years; giving an example of extremists on the right, Harris referred to those participating in the Tea Party protests of this past year as “teabaggers.”

First, it is regrettable that those involved in Tea Party protests have been branded as extremists. The protests were incohesive and very poorly organized, but unlike the left, the right does not have an established protest culture. In this case, that lack of structure resulted in the message being diluted and garbled due to poor execution.

Despite these failures, the events were clearly focused around fear and anger stemming from runaway government spending. Although the concerns espoused by some of the protesters may not be shared by most Americans, the general message is not so far outside the norm to be called extreme. While some of the individuals involved were extremists spouting vile nonsense, anti-war protests have produced a good deal of similar garbage in the past – among others, Bush was endlessly called a terrorist himself and compared to Hitler. I would hardly claim that the anti-war movement is extremist.

However, the main problem with Harris’s comment was the term “teabaggers.” I am sure that most people reading this are aware of the other meaning of the term, and understand that its use is derogatory to say the least. The term was popularized by commentators at MSNBC – which Harris himself blasted as part of the “Freak Show” – who used it repeatedly to mock the protesters. David Schuster, in particular, described the protesters’ goals as to “give President Obama a strong tongue-lashing and lick government spending.” Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, and even CNN’s Anderson Cooper made jokes along similar lines. These comments have no place in political commentary, as they are juvenile and derogatory, and contribute nothing to any serious debate. However, just as I was unsurprised by Fox’s promotion of the events, I was not shocked to learn of MSNBC’s derision of the movement. The decision to broadcast this kind of commentary is entirely up to the networks, and given these networks’ biases, their responses were entirely predictable.

The decision to use the term offhandedly in a speech against exactly that kind of commentary, however, is hypocritical to say the least. Mr. Harris, who has covered politics for twenty years and founded the political news site Politico, certainly knew better, which makes his use of the term even more regrettable, and seriously undermines the thrust of his address.

-Zack Starer-Stor is a fourth-year student

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