Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

What Goes Around…

In the couple of days since Thursday’s debate between vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan and sitting Vice President Joe Biden, there have been howls of protest, clucking of tongues, and clutch-for-the-edge-of-the-sofa expressions of all-aflutter-ness about one element of the debate in particular. It seems that while Mr. Ryan was answering various questions about the economy, wars, and so on, Mr. Biden was treating him rather poorly. Specifically, Mr. Biden was smirking. Occasionally laughing out loud. And, worst of all…

Biden was interrupting him.


The nerve.

I may retch.

When I faint dead away, I hope I actually land on that there couch.


Sorry, I should clarify a bit. I am not generally in favor of interruptions for their own sake.

Early this week, I turned on the television in my living room and sat myself down to watch a little of the boob tube by way of decompression from a long day of teaching music to middle school students. I spend a considerable portion of my teaching day reminding this or that student that it’s probably polite to allow one of their classmates, or their teachers, to complete a sentence or even a clause before they jump in with a thought of their own. Listen to the entire instruction, please. Listen to the whole statement first. You might acquire some information – I might offer some information or some clue that will answer the question you had a desperate need to voice right this very second.

So, sitting down to the local TV, I was struck by just how much interrupting is done on a regular basis in current mass-media programming. I took note of this, independent of VP Debate Night, because VP Debate Night hadn’t even happened yet.

Cable news programs are awash with people trying to make their point at the expense of, and over the top of, other people. (MSNBC’s Chris Matthews has a possibly unique ability to interrupt one of his guest panelists even before they have spoken.) As has been chronicled in this space before, more and more of these news analysis and commentary shows feature an Esteemed Panel of three, four, or even five people. Their desperate attempts to be heard only serve to get me fairly Esteemed myself.

ESPN has a sports commentary program called “Pardon the Interruption”. Curiously, there is somewhat less crosstalk on this show than on many others, but it does happen often nonetheless. And curiously, no one on the show asks anyone else’s pardon.

And by complete mistake, I turned to something that could have been “Jersey Shore” or “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” or one of their pretenders. I didn’t stay long – perhaps fifteen seconds – because it was excruciating on many levels. But during that fraction of a minute, I would judge that not one of the half-dozen people on the screen was allowed by the others to finish a sentence.

So our mass-media and political culture has long since become a haven for not-letting-the-other-guy-get-a-word-in-edgeways. (One exception: Monday night, while Rachel Maddow was interviewing a former Ohio elections official, her voice mingled briefly with her guest’s. The cause of the crosstalk was entirely innocent: the satellite delay caused her words to arrive in her guest’s earpieces a second or two later than she spoke them. But she went out of her way to apologize to him for interrupting. “Sorry, go ahead. I didn’t mean to interrupt you there, sir.” I sing Ms. Maddow’s praises for many reasons. This is unquestionably one.)

It’s not right, it’s not polite; but it’s out there. Friends, if you’re a stand-up comic and you don’t know that the hecklers are out there, and you’re not prepared, you’re not a stand-up comic for long. And if you’re in politics…


Joe Biden is originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania. All you have to do is look over at Scranton as you drive past it on Interstate 81 – which I have done – to know that it’s a town that has seen more than its share of troubled times. Its coal mining industry was all but wiped out when the Scranton mines were flooded by the Susquehanna River early in 1959; within a year, the decrease in coal traffic caused a locally-administered railroad company to need to merge with another, and Scranton as a railroad hub was no more. The failing structure of the abandoned mines led to cave-ins that occasionally consumed whole neighborhoods. Over the next two decades, Scranton-area textile jobs were moved to southern states, or moved overseas altogether. Scranton is in northeastern Pennsylvania, not so far away from Allentown, a city whose desperate straits have also been popularly chronicled. I’m pretty sure that this area, from which the Vice President hails, is a collective tough town. It’s not the Hamptons, or Palm Beach, or the “elbow land” of Cape Cod. If people find something you say laughable, they will not titter or giggle or smirk – they’ll LOL. And when they do, they certainly won’t cover their mouths daintily.

So, Joe Biden’s political adversaries – and their media proxies – hyperventilated all day yesterday. They were simply aghast to think that he would stoop so low as to smirk at, and heap derision on, Paul Ryan’s presentation. Aghast that he would be so impolite as to react vocally, strongly, and immediately to the Ryan assertions with which he took issue.

The Associated Press reported, “Biden mockingly smiled, wagged his finger and couldn’t seem to stop interrupting Republican running mate Paul Ryan. ‘With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey,’ Biden said at one point, during an exchange on foreign policy. Democrats cheered his sharp tone in the only vice presidential debate. Republicans panned the vice president as disrespectful to his younger opponent.”

The early word from the GOP side after Thursday night’s debate was that Vice President Biden ‘embarrassed himself’ in the face-off by interrupting his opponent and laughing openly. … ‘I’m talking about the fact that the vice president of the United States, who didn’t know his facts, could not decide whether or not to giggle, shout, and he settled for interrupting all evening,’ said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), chairman of the House GOP conference.”

Have they missed the debates between Massachusetts senatorial candidates Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren? Gang, this is now what you do.

This is not Joe Biden’s first rodeo. When he was first elected to the US Senate in 1972, Paul Ryan was two years old. I suspect that Biden has probably heard enough policy arguments, and has definitely had enough experience in matters of government to be pretty secure both in his command of lots of issues. And, as has been chronicled many and oft since he became Vice President (and before!), he is not a man given to hesitation if he feels strongly about a subject – and about someone else’s lack of command.

Now: please do not think I have become an advocate for incivility or disrespect in public discourse.

But also please don’t think I’ve become an advocate for hypocrisy either.

Fox News, a cable channel which is (safe to say) among those Biden adversaries, grabbed the incivility torch and ran with it immediately following the debate’s conclusion. Greta Van Susteren said she found Paul Ryan “polite and respectful,” but as for Joe Biden, she noted “the smiles, the sneers… I thought he was very unlikeable.” Chris Wallace declared that he didn’t think he’d “ever seen a debate in which one participant was as openly disrespectful of the other as Biden was to Paul Ryan was tonight. And that’s what it was… openly contemptuous and disrespectful.” And Sean Hannity commented, “As I watch a rude, condescending, interruptive, mean-spirited vice president tonight, this is not going to play well. I’ll tell you right now.”

I would respectfully point out that Fox News routinely brings Michelle Malkin and Donald Trump onto its programs. And anyone who goes on Mr. Hannity’s show and begins to offer an opinion or an assessment that differs with his views gets interrupted and shouted down promptly. So that about balances that checkbook.


In the 1970s, a popular t-shirt slogan read, “Do Unto Others… Then Split.” Too many people in politics and the media try to live by that slogan. They shouldn’t assume that they can. In politics of the mass media of the early twenty-first century, if you’re unprepared for a little rough-and-tumble in your debate, you may be in the wrong business. If you can’t stand the high heat … don’t step in the batter’s box.

And if you play this game in such a way that your style or plan is to dish out disrespect … you can’t cry about finding yourself on the receiving end.


October 13, 2012 - Posted by | celebrity, entertainment, Famous Persons, government, journalism, media, news, politics, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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