THE BLOG
11/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hey, I Got Your Civility Right Here, Champ!

I try to participate in talk radio when I can.  Tuesday morning I tried to call into the Smerconish Show when he brought up the topic of Civility.  Why is the discourse so coarse?  A number of people rang in with things like: the media did it, declining family values, technology makes it easier to see all of us in a raw state.

The point I was trying to get in, before he ran out of time was, being uncivilized pays - not only with cash, but in getting what you want.

How many of us had any clue before last week what a Joe Wilson was?  He is getting free air time and a huge monetary boost from right-wing donations by being a jerk.  Last count close to a million is going to him.

How long has Jerry Springer been on the air or in syndication with his act?  He has paid for a lot of stuff by getting a segment of the population to watch his brand of “civility”.  Springer is too easy of a choice for this.

We can look at the “reality” show phenomenon, where we are watching to see who loses it.  We can point, cluck our tongues and the produces walk away with a wad from ad $$$.  How many people watch American Idol for Simon?  It isn’t enough that really talented people get their due, they need to be ripped afterwards.  We are rewarding the ripping.

I remember Crossfire on CNN.  Intellectual mud wrestling that became unwatchable after a while.  This spawned (spawned is the right word here…) the network cable morass where uncivil behavior isn’t called out but celebrated.  It pays with the ratings rolling in.

Part of uncivil behavior is allowing a falsehood to stand or stoking a fire that is self-generated.  It was ok to demonize people like Richard Jewell.  This was a guy who saved a lot of people’s lives during the Atlanta Olympics.  He found a pipe bomb in a sack and did what he could to clear the area.  He should have been celebrated as a hero. 

When the cops started hitting dead-ends, they leaked his name.  The media ran with it, and he ended up a poster boy for the incivility of the media.  You can make a buck on that.  And, after all we are a capitalist society. 

Jewel died about 2 years ago.  He spent the remainder of his (I believed directly shortened) life trying to clear his name and pick up the pieces.  In a civilized world we are supposed to look out for one another.  I wonder if Jewell would take the same actions again if he had a do-over.

For more uncivil behaviors – look at CNN Cash Cow Nancy Grace!  If a show exists to make money and only to make money, there are no human ethics involved.  Unbelievable as it may seem – she’s still there making money on other people’s misery and making people miserable.   What would the Duke Lax families or the family of Melinda Duckett (who committed suicide after a session of Grace Civility) have to say about the rewarding of the uncivil?  ( Should these folks get a cut for being part of the entertainment, or talent, for those evenings where Ms. Grace got the good ratings? ) She still gets cash and a nightly seat at the table.   The victims of the uncivil attempt to move on with their lives.

Uncivility has its non-monetary trophies.  How about when we go to a sporting event and work the ref?  A lot of us do it.  One of the masters of this is Pa. Governor Ed Rendell, he is a fixture at Penn Quaker games.  He screams, but he gets the calls for his team.  He gets what he wants by being uncivil.

Staying more in the political realm, what does a candidate do when they are down in the polls in the home stretch?  That’s right – go negative!  “Pull that other guy down, because I have to have that seat no matter what, or what I destroy in the process.”  When was the last time a seat was vacated after some sort of election fraud?

The rewarding of bad behavior is only part of the problem.  It starts the cycle where uncivility is the solution to any public problem. 

What is the penalty for being uncivilized?  There are a lot of people who see this stuff, but being too “civilized”, don’t want to challenge the boars who are inflicting the pain.  They are afraid to be seen as somehow unseemly to stand up to these bullies.  Guess what, the milquetoasts are as much a part of the problem as the bullies raining down the half truths.

There will be no penalty when no one speaks up.

I have been in and out of local politics for about 2 decades now.  I have worked on a number of campaigns where a critical juncture is reached.   We would have the opponent dead-to-rights on an issue (a state auditor’s general reports saying the town isn’t managed properly, or the white chief-of-staff of the incumbent surveilling the black challenger’s house (we think it was on state time)) and those involved wouldn’t go forward to stand up and speak in a load clear voice.  Nothing negative, just report the facts in a civil dispassionate tone.  They wouldn’t do it.  Those were campaigns that would be lost.

When the town fathers where I live tried to ram through a museum, hotel, and conference center (the American Revolution Center or the ARC) inside Valley Forge National Park, people involved stood up to them.  The residents had some outside help too - but it would not have arrived if there weren’t people in the town ready to call out the abuse of power.  The forces-that-be had all the money in the world, the Governor, the local newspaper; printed flyers mailed first class to residents’ homes.  The incumbents lost the subsequent election hands down, because they incumbents were acting like bullies and some people actually stood up to them.  The ARC is being built in downtown Philly…

That fact is we are coarse because we reward it.  Answer - Stop rewarding it.  Glenn Back is feeling the heat because somebody is standing up to him.

I hope that President Obama calling people out on the incivilities will lessen the rewards for acting like a dope.  Whether the Kanye comment was leaked or not we all need to just start calling this behavior for what it is…