Sometimes, it’s right and proper to point out the absurdity of someone’s vehemence regarding a perceived outrage by comparing it to something outrageous to a greater degree.
Sometimes it is neither right or proper.
Setting aside whether or not it is offensive in its sensibilities, Peter Brookes’ cartoon, titled ‘Priorities’, is a disproportionate criticism of what some would feel is a proportionate response to the phone hacking scandal. Specifically, it is the reputation of the media itself, not just that of Rupert Murdoch, News International and News Corp., now being placed under a microscope, and I think it’s difficult to argue that the media doesn’t have an obligation to attempt to police itself by bringing to light what even Murdoch described as “serious wrongdoing”.
Yes, sometimes a news consumer is left to wonder at the priorities of the media when it becomes obsessed over a murder trial of a woman in Florida or a ‘balloon boy’. These are excellent of examples of misplaced priorities, as other stories were probably pushed to the third page. Yes, the famine in southern Somalia is a tragedy that deserves journalistic attention. No, it does not mean the media can’t chew bubble-gum and walk at the same time. By Peter Brookes’ logic, why should the Times of London, a Murdoch owned paper, report ‘Markets rally as euro debt plan emerges from summit’ when there is so much more than just economic suffering going on in Somalia?
This use of analogy, unfortunately, is used to attack the credibility of an argument through emotional manipulation, rather than the argument itself. I think of it as the “what’s the big deal?” defense. It has often been used when attempting to dismiss feminists’ concerns in the Western world by comparing their issues to the issues of women in the developing world. It was employed by former Senator Phil Gramm in 2008 when he described perceived economic woes as being a ‘mental recession’ and the people expounding on it as a ‘nation of whiners’. Once, I was told not to be so stressed when I was out of work for six months when so many others were out of work for much longer (I wasn’t all that stressed).
To some degree it’s true. Somehow, if you think you have it bad, there always seems to be someone who has it worse. And yeah, sometimes people whine and overreact, but it’s important to draw the distinction between the attitudes regarding a position and the position itself. News of the World did engage in illegal and unethical behavior. There is reason to believe that its executives and staffers knew of the situation and possibly encouraged it. Everyone in the free world who prizes a free and open press must call to the carpet everyone involved, otherwise a possible culture of corruption won’t ever change. And we can do this at the same time as paying attention to even “more newsworthy” tragedies going on at the same time. The big takeaway from this opinion cartoon is that the media should continue to make proportionate, responsible inquiries into Rupert and James Murdoch and the scandal itself, and media outlets should look to make sure that their own houses are clean as well. Finally, there really should be more emphasis on reporting the important stories like the disastrous new famine in Somalia.
Oh, and one more thing. Taking a look at The Times front page on the web today (the same day as the cartoon’s publication), you might notice that there’s not a single mention of Somalia in any of the headlines. So much for priorities.