Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Less Than Total Victory

On March 31, Robert Reich had a good- but for him, disappointing- take on the controversy in which

Last Wednesday morning, Laura Ingraham, Fox News’s queen of snark, tweeted that David Hogg – a 17-year-old who survived the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, and has been among the eloquent advocates for gun control – “whines about” being rejected by four universities he applied to. She linked to an article from the Daily Wire calling him a “gun rights provocateur.”

Shortly after Ingraham’s attack on Hogg, he called for Ingraham’s advertisers to boycott the show. Within days, a slew of them did just that.

As advertisers peeled off, Ingraham tried to take back her comment, saying the “spirit of Holy Week” motivated her to apologize for “any upset or hurt” she might have caused Hogg “or any of the brave victims of Parkland.”

Hogg rejected the apology. “She only apologized after we went after advertisers,” he told The New York Times. He then tweeted to Ingraham that he’d accept her apology “if you denounce the way your network has treated my friends and I in this fight. It’s time to love thy neighbor, not mudsling at children.”

If truth be told, Hogg, while pursuing a righteous cause, at least confirmed Ingraham's charge that the young man is a whiner. She did not "mudsling at children"- she threw mud at an individual (an eloquent, mature individual) who chose to engage vigorously in the political arena.  Still, as Reich would undoubtedly agree, any day without Laura Ingraham is a day with sunshine. He recognizes

 ....corporations have to keep their consumers content all the time.

Selling satisfactory products and services is necessary but often not sufficient. Customers also want to feel good about the brands they’re buying. At the least, they don’t want to associate themselves with mean-spirited vitriol. 

Liberty Mutual, the giant insurer, called Ingraham’s comments “inconsistent with our values as a company, especially when it comes to treating others with dignity and respect.” Nutrish, a pet food brand, said Ingraham’s comments “are not consistent with how we feel people should be treated.” TripAdvisor explained that Ingraham’s comments “cross the line of decency.” 

Such explanations sound as if these companies chose to drop Ingraham’s show in order to be socially responsible. In truth, they’re just being smart at doing what they’re set up to do – make money. When it comes to consumer products, cruelty doesn’t sell.

Reich realizes "companies aren't being socially responsible" when they "have quickly ended commercial relationships with famous people acccused of sexual harassment and abuse," but instead "don't want to sully their brands." He argues, convincingly, that

Companies are spending huge amounts seeking to connect their goods to consumers’ values. They know more about those values than anyone. Which suggests that Americans may have had enough cruelty – coming from Laura Ingraham, from Fox News, from Donald Trump, from the Harvey Weinsteins of the land, from whomever. 

Many companies, especially Liberty Mutual- which does not market to the Trumpian demographic- will exhibit a social conscience. However, others may discover that their consumers' values don't align with those of Liberty Mutual, Robert Reich, David Hogg, or myself, but instead those espoused by Donald Trump. These individuals do not define cruelty as antagonism toward minorities, gays, or even young liberals. 

The left may observe that it is being hoisted by its own petard if= more likely, when- conservatives decide to play by the same rules. Admittedly, abstaining from consumer boycotts like the one initiated by Hogg are unlikely to deter the right from using the same tactics it disgracefully and successfully applied against the Dixie Chicks. Still, the left should be (as is Reich) restrained in its glee.

We cannot be anywhere near certain, for instance, that after a brief absence, Ingraham's advertisers don't return. Further, there should also be a more abstract, global, and potentially more dangerous concern about going down this road. This boycott and others are begun by persons conscientously dedicated to an ideological viewpoint. However, ultimately, the sanctions are implemented by corporations, which means that corporations are playing the major role in determining what voices are silenced.

Today it is Laura Ingraham's on the right. Tomorrow it may be someone on the left, more tolerant and compassionate, even less vitriolic.  Arguably, that is the free market of ideas, and a  net gain. However, voluntarily turning more power or influence over to major corporations comes with a whole lot of dangers, now unforeseen but potentially perilous.

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