The photo at right comes from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, whose coverage of the Russ Carnahan town hall meeting where Kenneth Gladney fell down/was brutally beaten by union thugs reflects the innocence our country new on August 6th.* I have been trying to figure out what the fudge happened to Kenneth Gladney all morning. As near as I can tell, the unvarnished story goes like this: He came to the town hall meeting hosted by Representative Carnahan, where people from both sides of the health care debate had gathered outside to yell and hold up signs. Gladney was either selling or giving away yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” flags when an altercation erupted between Some Dude and Some Other Dudes, a few of whom were from the SEIU. Some Dude fell down, and in the rush to protect him/gather around him and freak out, Gladney was pulled briefly to the ground. You can see the video of it here:
That’s not Kenneth Gladney lying on the ground at the beginning of the video; that’s Some Dude. Gladney is the guy who gets pulled to the ground at roughly the six second mark, by the guy in the purple hat. The guy in the purple hat is definitely an asshole, as many people indicate by yelling “asshole!” at him. Gladney is on his feet by about the twelve second mark, and is wandering around asking about his glasses at :32. The video is just yelling from that point on, and makes me sad in roughly the same way as old episodes of Cops.
On Saturday, Gladney appeared at a public protest in a wheelchair, where his lawyer described him as “too weak to speak.” Reports of what happened diverge wildly from there. On one end of the spectrum we have this Gateway Pundit post, which says Gladney was “too weak to speak after his public beating.” The site reports that Gladney was “beaten and kicked” and points out that the NAACP and ACLU, along with the “state-run media,” remain silent on the issue. It also reprints this Washington Times opinion column by Andrew Breitbach as a news report. Gateway Pundit’s description of events seems like it is maybe not entirely accurate, unless A) Gladney was involved in a separate beating after the events of that video and B) the state of Missouri has taken over operation of print and broadcast media without my knowledge.
Further left on the blogopolitical spectrum is this report from the Washington Monthly, which says that Gladney’s lawyer told the crowd on Saturday that Gladney is accepting donations toward his medical expenses, as he was recently laid off and doesn’t have medical insurance. If that’s true, we can all stop making our own irony and focus on harvesting it in its naturally occurring form. Gladney’s lawyer has since claimed that Gladney gets health insurance through his wife. Depending on which account your read, that health insurance thing is something the lawyer said, something Gladney told reporters, or something the St. Louis Post-Dispatch made up.
Just to the left of Sacco and Vanzetti, Crooks and Liars offers us this lesson in the use of scare quotes. Gladney is a “victim,” not a victim, who wants his “fake ‘brutal assault'” prosecuted “as a ‘hate crime.'” They even describe the town hall meeting as a “town hall” meeting. Everything is fake to the guys over at Crooks and Liars. Their report also includes a clip from Fox & Friends, which replays the original YouTube video with the frame cropped in such a way as to make it appear that the guy in the purple hat is punching and kicking something off-camera, when in fact he is trying to stand up. Thanks, Fox News.
Clearly, this whole fiasco tells us about the future of health care and/or this great nation of ours. Kenneth Gladney is a harbinger of something, but just what he harbings remains unclear. If in fact he does not have health insurance—and god, I do kind of hope that’s true—he is a walking example of the Republican Party’s success in convincing legions of Americans to vote against their own interests, probably via the sort of atavistic patriotism that still thinks the American flag should have a mean snake on it. Gladney would be a sign of the New Populism, which has mobilized the disenfranchised and less educated to vote for lower taxes on the rich, reduced social services and whatever else makes people disenfranchised and undereducated. He would be The Crank Factor writ hilarious and sad.
Possibly even more terrifying, though, is what the Kenneth Gladney story portends about journalism itself. At least one of the descriptions of what happened in St. Louis last week is false. Depending on which blog you read, Gladney was either viciously beaten or a puppet of the far right. As a person with a degree in thinking critically about texts, I cannot for the life of me determine which one is true. The video suggests that Gladney is a politicized slip-and-faller who saw an opportunity to cash in, but who knows? He does, but he’s got a serious stake in never telling anybody.
So perhaps Kenneth Gladney is a harbinger of how news will look in a nation of liars. With the exception of the Post-Dispatch, all the sources we looked at in this post are so-called New Media. They’re agile, infinitely distributed and utterly unconcerned with the sort of ethics that once bound the news industry. Whether they’re claiming that the mainstream media is run by the state or that Kenneth Gladney has no health insurance—two claims that could be easily verified or disproved—they make the dissemination of accurate information second to the propagation of a point of view. That’s fine in the context of, say, the New York Times. But when such ethics-driven, traditional news outlets cease to exist—or, in this case, simply don’t cover a story—what do we do?
It would appear that we will simply have to make our assessments without knowing the facts. That’s what a lot of people are doing already, of course. It just never occurred to me that they would force us to be like them through sheer numbers. Ignorance is contagious, apparently. The blind are leading the blind, at this point, and they are walking around poking at people’s eyes.
* It also reflects some seriously professional photography. Here’s a tip for composing your news shots: stand in front of the tree.