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Words of wisdom from an unexpected source

I read something this past week that made me both hopeful and very sad all at once. The guy who said it is right. I won’t say his name, because in these toxic times, a person’s reputation can often get in the way of anything else they have to say.

[L]et’s model for the country something that the country desperately needs: people who have different ideas coming together, and in a civil way, discussing those differences.

That, more than anything, is what’s missing in Washington, what’s missing on Facebook, what’s missing on Main Street, and what’s missing on television, especially on the cable news stations and on Sunday morning talk shows.

In the last couple of years I’ve been called a fascist, a socialist, a communist, a Muslim, an idiot, and probably a few others things I’ve forgotten. I’m certainly not any of the first four things, and I’m not sure how someone can be a fascist and a socialist or communist at the same time, but I suppose if the people on the far left call me a fascist and the people on the far right call me a socialist, then I’m probably about where I need to be.

I tried to think whether there’s anyplace I do see civil discourse, and I did think of one place: weekly security podcasts. Especially the ones that are recorded sober, but even on Pauldotcom, where the hosts and guests drink themselves under the table most nights, the discussion is far more civil than what you see on television where politics are concerned.

And there are disagreements in computer security, especially when it comes to policy, and how to best implement policy.

It starts with all the people in the argument acknowledging that they’re all knowledgeable professionals. With that set, both sides get a chance to talk, ideally, without interruption. Both get about the same length of time to talk, and then they move on to the next topic, leaving the listener decides who is more right.

It makes for an informed audience.

Recently I saw an old episode of the TV sitcom Newhart (the 1980s one, not the 1970s one). Newhart’s character, Dick Louden, was hosting a TV talk show, and his guest cancelled on him, so a five-cent psychic came on in his place. The guy tried to guess 10 things about Louden, got all of them wrong, then said, “Watch me bend these spoons!” He bent them, off camera of course. Louden, flabbergasted that he could appear more psychic than his so-called psychic guest, couldn’t come up with anything to say but, “You’re a… you’re a… you’re a weenie!”

His ratings soared, and he became a Jerry Springer before Jerry Springer. The episode aired in 1986 or 1987, a good four years before Springer went on the air.

In 1986, this was funny. In 2013, it hits a little too close to reality. Today, belittling and name calling isn’t just limited to talk shows like Springer’s or Geraldo Rivera’s old talk show, but on segments presented as straight news.

In a single day this past week, I saw politicians from both sides of the aisle compare the people on the other side of the aisle to al Qaeda. The same week, I had someone else tell me we are at war, and that I’m on the wrong side of that war.

The world of politics and journalism was a toxic place when I ventured into it 20 years ago, and it was getting worse when I got out, but it’s far worse today.

I’d like to say there’s hope of it getting better, but that will require putting public service ahead of profits. I won’t hold my breath.

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