I had the radio on in the car one day, a couple months ago, when I caught part of an interview with a filmmaker named John Ziegler, who was promoting a film on the 2008 U.S. Presidential election called “Media Malpractice,” which he purported would demonstrate decisively just how in the tank the popular media was for Obama. I’m not sure a documentary is really necessary to make such a point, but the guy sounded funny, so I figured I’d check the local library system to see if there was a copy available I could request.
They didn’t have a copy of the documentary, but they did have a couple copies of a book Ziegler had written a few years ago, called “The Death Of Free Speech: How Our Broken National Dialogue Has Killed The Truth And Divided America,” so I requested a copy, and gave it a read.
The essence of the book is a demonstration of how the irrational moralism we call “political correctness” has eroded our culture’s appreciation for – and even understanding of – freedom of speech. I would add that it has also contributed significantly to a serious dumbing-down of our dialogue, as well as of a loss of respect for the truth – neither of which claims would be disputed by Ziegler. However, as much as I would have liked to like this work, it is simply not a good book.
No small part of the problem with the book is that it is really, first and foremost, about John Ziegler, and his trials and tribulations as a misunderstood and oppressed talk radio character. Furthermore, the entire book is just a series of anecdotes – some of which may be interesting, but the sum of which fail to constitute a rewarding whole, in much the same way a platter full of Twinkies would fail to constitute a rewarding meal. It might be unfair to criticize him for not writing the book he didn’t write, but when a book’s subtitle purports to tell “how” something comes to be, a little analysis might not be an unreasonable expectation. There’s simply not much there, despite ample subject matter. This book even has an index, though it is such a light-weight work that its inclusion seems unnecessary, if not a tad contrived.
Then there is the matter of the writing just not being very good. This guy’s not a writer, he’s a whiner, an agitator, and a wiseguy – and it shows. Even the editing is poor, with numerous sentences and paragraphs showing obvious traces of cut and paste procedures that nobody bothered to go back to clean up.
In truth, I was also put off by a number of his libertarian prejudices, as he perpetuates several of the hoary dogmas of the left as related to religious faith in the public square, such as the canard that “organized religion” is responsible for most of the world’s bloodshed. I’ve already returned the book, and cannot remember any specific examples off the top of my head except for one rather comical one.
Anyone who spends any time these days defending Catholicism in public is accustomed to having the recent clergy sexual abuse crisis hauled out by critics of the Church as a kind of talisman against having to take seriously anything someone in the Church says, regardless of how serious it might actually be. In discussing the outraged response of the Archdiocese of New York to an act of on-the-air sacrilege-for-entertainment within the sacred space of Saint Patrick Cathedral, Ziegler pulls out the obligatory talisman by saying something along the lines of “how can they waste their time complaining about this when THE CRISIS happened!” But then, incredibly, he goes on to claim that the clergy sexual abuse crisis is clearly the worst scandal in Church history!
Ignoring the irony that THE CRISIS as an issue specific to the Catholic Church (as opposed to an issue common to almost every institution during the “sexual revolution” and the rise of “therapeutic man”) is actually a product of the exact same anti-critical, obfuscating, politically motivated, media-driven left-wing group-think that Ziegler wrote this book to complain about, the claim that this is anywhere near the worst scandal in Church history just exposes a complete lack of historical credibility on his part.
In terms of scandal, a small fraction of priests committing grave sins and an episcopal bureaucracy that bungles the response would hardly seem to hold a votive candle to the spectacle of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” presenting three rival claimants to the papal throne, to use just one of many possible candidates from the first half of the second millennium. Many other examples abound, and the current situation is really just a blip on the radar screen in the big picture – as outrageous as that undoubtedly feels to the happy consumers of “politically correct” moralism – where nothing is more important than having properly defined victims, except having appropriate scapegoats put in their place.
What might be unprecedented in history, though, is the public disregard for truth that simmers under the surface of Ziegler’s book, like volcanic lava threatening to erupt onto the surface of society with devastating toxicity and lifeless scorching ore. It’s just not clear to me whether Ziegler’s approach is more part of the solution, or the problem.