Opinion | Morgan Liddick: The outrage machine manufactures crisis after crisis
“You never let a serious crisis go to waste … it’s an opportunity to do things you couldn’t do before.” — Rahm Emanuel, former Obama political advisor
And if there isn’t one, he might have added, make one up. “Hands up, don’t shoot.” “Black lives matter.” “Rape on Campus.” Homophobic pizza shop owners. Evil landlords evicting deadbeat tenants. The list goes on.
We now know that the racial tension and subsequent violence in Ferguson, Missouri, was the product of a false narrative, nurtured by race hustlers looking for a payday, abetted by the Obama administration’s justice department — seemingly more concerned with the potential for advancing their agenda of white guilt and government control than with investigating the facts of the case. We know that the ongoing “Black Lives Matter” meme is equally based on a breathless misreading of events, and of our culture: of course they matter. So do white lives, or lives of any other phenotype. But one wouldn’t know it from the hyperbolic rhetoric devoted to the topic by politicians and the press.
Emblematic of the cottage industry of crisis creation is the story of “Jackie.” For those uninterested in extracurricular goings-on at our nation’s top-drawer universities, the woman in question was central to a 2014 Rolling Stone article entitled “A Rape on Campus.” The 9,000-plus word screed by Sabrina Erdely detailed her gang-rape at the hands of seven men at a fraternity party. It was so sensational that the university president suspended the fraternity in question and convened a special consultative assembly to deal with the “culture of rape” on campus. The Department of Education rained down threats, led by Catherine Lhamon, chief of the department’s office of civil rights, an associate of the university official who put Erdely in touch with “Jackie.” Rape crisis counselors from the university testified before congressional committees about sexual harassment and drinking on campus; there was much obligatory outrage and hand-wringing. Reputations were tarnished or destroyed.
But the event described by Rolling Stone never happened. From the first, the narrative didn’t add up; by the time the magazine commissioned the Columbia School of Journalism to investigate its reportage, it was clear the entire thing was a fabrication. The CSJ study was a comprehensive condemnation: failures of editorial control, fact checking, corroboration, everything. And yet — when Rolling Stone finally and grudgingly acknowledged the error, no one was fired. Not the editor; not Erdely, who had shopped the outlines of her story around for a year before selecting the University of Virginia as a victim. According to Rolling Stone’s managing editor, her heart was in the right place. She did her bit to advance the narrative. Nothing to see here, folks …
Why does the outrage machine work? Why are we so credulous, so willing to bite at the most implausible of tales, so easily whipping into frenzy? Why are those who perpetrate these frauds on the viewing and reading public so easily forgiven, while their false narratives are taken to heart? One answer might be education.
For the past 40 years and more, what American history is still taught has slowly but certainly been transformed from an ahistorical paean of certainties and triumphs into an equally baseless litany of crimes and oppressions. Our nation was founded on lies, its growth fueled by theft, its successes a product of cruelty and violence against minorities. Just ask the president’s terrorist pal Bill Ayers. Or his first attorney general. His eminence grise Valerie Jarett. His secretary of education or any of his appointments to the various offices of civil rights compliance strewn throughout the federal government.
Or perhaps the frenzy machine works because of the media-drenched world in which we live. Most media are firmly aligned with the left and have a voracious appetite for blood and scandal, courtesy of the 24-hour news cycle. Given these tendencies, those who cannot bear to live in a silent world are constantly bombarded with stories calculated to stoke their outrage. And as we have seen, if there is no story, one will be created to match the narrative.
It might be our political class; eager to garner activist energy, votes and money by inciting one group of Americans against another. Most likely, it is a combination of all these.
Whatever the cause, we have become hypersensitive, quivering cubes of outrage waiting to burst into flames of righteous anger at the smallest offense. In such a state we can no longer distinguish between the real — officer Michael Slager’s murder of Walter Scott, for example — and the manufactured but politically useful story of “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
That is the real and destructive crisis that threatens us all, and it is worsening. We refuse to ask why at the peril of our Republic.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News.
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