Did you know that outrage is incivility in a hurry? “In a sense, outrage is incivility writ large,” Sarah Sobieraj and Jeffrey M. Berry, a pair of professors from Tufts wrote in the journal Political Communication  last year. “It is by definition uncivil, but not all incivility is outrage. “
“Eyerolling, sighing, and the like are not in our view outrageous, because they do not incorporate the elements of malfeasant inaccuracy and intent to diminish that characterize outrage.” I’ll bet you can guess who they deemed most guilty of this offense.
“Outrage discourse involves efforts to provoke a visceral response from the audience, usually in the form of anger, fear, or moral righteousness through the use of overgeneralizations, sensationalism, misleading or patently inaccurate information, ad hominem attacks, and partial truths about opponents,” they wrote. “Scrutinizing 10 weeks of data from political blogs, talk radio, and cable news analysis programs, we demonstrate that outrage discourse is extensive, takes many different forms (we examine 13 different types), and spans media formats.”
“We also show that while outrage tactics are largely the same for liberal and conservative media, conservative media use significantly more outrage speech than liberal media.”
You might also not be surprised to hear who they find the most outrageous practioner of the art of outrage. “Maybe you aren’t aware of the link between the churches in your community and Nazism,” they wrote. “Syndicated radio host and Fox Cable News commentator Glenn Beck may be helpful in this regard.”
“I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site,” Beck said in a March 2, 2010 broadcast. “If you find it, run as fast as you can.”
“Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”
Sobeiraj and Berry go on to note that “For those who missed these remarks on his radio show, Beck made the same argument on his TV show, underscoring his point by holding up cards, one with a Swastika and another with a hammer and sickle, and cautioning that social justice had also been the battle cry of Nazis and communists.”
Whenever you add an adjective to the word justice, save perhaps for the poetic qualifier, you do tend to dilute the meaning.
“Let me offer you my definition of social justice: I keep what I earn and you keep what you earn,” George Mason University economist Walter Williams has stated. “Do you disagree?”
“Well then tell me how much of what I earn belongs to you—and why?”
Sobeiraj is a sociologist at Tufts. Berry toils in the political science department there. They seemed nearly as outraged as Beck but there is another distinction among them beyond, or perhaps accompanying, their political beliefs. The pair of professors are still at Tufts. Beck is off the air.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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