Saturday, May 17, 2008
Appeasement in context

This loud exchange between Chris Matthews of MSNBC and a radio host from Southern California has been making noise on the Web. Matthews challenges the host to define "appeasement" and explain its historical context. He has no answer.

Sometimes this sort of thing can come off as a "gotcha" moment. ("Who is the leader of Uzbekistan? Why don't you know that?") But here, "appeasement" is crucial to the discussion regarding recent comments by President Bush and Barack Obama. Matthews was correct to press the point.

The "appeasement" discussion also presents an opportunity for newspapers to provide this context to readers. Why not include a textbox with stories about this news? Start with the dictionary definition, and then summarize what the word means in relation to Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 12:37 PM | Permalink |


  • At 2:53 PM, Blogger George

    No, it isn't a "gotcha" moment. A "gotcha" moment is a question about something irrelevant, and often gives more insight into the questioner than the person being questioned. An example of this is when Pumpkinhead Russert invoked the Transitive Property of Blackness to question Barack Obama about something Harry Belafonte said.

    The incident with Kevin James was directly related to something he was saying. He went on the show to smear Obama by talking about appeasement and Neville Chamberlain, and the fact that he didn't know what appeasement is or what Neville Chamberlain did exposed him not only as a moron but as someone who was not speaking sincerely, but was only motivated by partisan considerations. That's relevant.

    As for taking an opportunity to explain the context of appeasement, that is OK as far as it goes, but your perspective reveals how steeped you are in the phony "ethics" that pervade journalism. There shouldn't be any need to explain the context of appeasement, because in EVERY REPORT in which a source is referred to as accusing Obama of "appeasment," the report should go something like:

    (Name), a spokesman for (name of organization) today accused Senator Obama of wanting to "appease our enemies" by promising to negotiate with Iran. (Name) is lying in order to further the partisan interests of (name of organization) and to create a vague association in the minds of readers between the name of Senator Obama and the word "appeasement." Appeasement does not consist of negotiating with adversaries, but instead means the granting of concessions to a usually more powerful or threatening adversary in the hope that it will be satisfied with the concessions and refrain from some more threatening act.

    Parties faxing in smears should be called out BY NAME, and their interest in prompting the smear should be analyzed as part of the story. Journalistic "ethics," however, as currently practiced, promotes source confidentiality as the supreme virtue, and also sees "news" as consisting of "who says what" rather than "what's really true."

    The objection to calling out smearers by name is, no doubt, that the flow of such "news" would dry up.

    That would actually be good.