Grilli: We’ve cried wolf, and now no one is listening


On the first day, alone in the woods, the boy shouted wolf and the villagers rushed to his aid. On the second day, loving the attention, the boy shouted wolf again. And again the villagers believed him. On the third day, the boy shouted wolf and the villagers were nowhere to be found. They did not come to the boy’s aid. Only this time, there really was a wolf. So the famous fairy tale goes, a tale of human nature that we are unfortunately all too susceptible to.

For me, this is an eerily prescient metaphor which directly correlates to the overlapping responsibility held by the media, and the left and right sides of the political aisle, and how they shaped the 2016 election.

In the age of 24-hour news coverage, eyes must be caught and clicks must be had for a television news operation, blog, website or newspaper to keep its doors open.

How does one accomplish such a task? If one is a left-wing news outlet, (I would hold MSNBC, CNN and the New York Times most culpable) the boy must cry identity politics. “Racist,” they cry. “Sexist,” they cry. This easy argument massages the sensibilities of a site’s common reader and requires only the kind of spectral evidence found in a 17th century witch trial.

Members of the left-wing media may get frustrated, and sometimes rightfully so, that the diversity of skin tone amid conservatives may be characterized by the difference in color between dairy, soy and almond milk. It was easy for the left to flippantly denounce Mitt Romney as some sort of conniving sociopath in 2012 because, well, he kind of looked like Christian Bale in American Psycho and had all the personality of an under-ripe banana.

They cried wolf then and the people listened, and Romney lost. In 2015, Donald Trump rolled onto the scene and again, they cried wolf. Except this time, they cried wolf about a man that the media itself, especially NBC (in order to market the popular show, The Apprentice) had decided was a Bruce Wayne-esque playboy billionaire.

Now that they were crying wolf, the threat seemed hollow, and the villagers did not come rushing to the boy’s aid. Except this time, the wolf was actually there. This virulent hyperbole is even evident among elected officials. Among the most notable, during the 2012 campaign, Joe Biden claimed that the Romney/Ryan ticket would put African-Americans “back in chains.” This is highly inflammatory language. So inflammatory that when Democrats campaign in 2016 and use similar language about Donald Trump, “we really mean it this time” just doesn’t hold water.

But they really do mean it this time.

If one is a media outlet on the right (I would hold The Blaze, Fox News, and Rush Limbaugh most culpable) roles must be defined. To right-wing news outlets, they are the insurgency, the fly in the ointment of the mainstream-media conspiracy. They are Emmanuel Goldstein, lurking in the shadows for someone to tell (and sometimes scream) the “truth” to. They are constantly frustrated, and sometimes rightfully so, that the so-called champions of the working class in left-wing media are much more likely to be found sharing $16 cocktails at The Plaza with Lena Dunham than actually helping someone pay their mortgage. But, like the left, they cry wolf. They are constantly reading the tea leaves, predicting that any minute now (you just wait) “they’ll” be coming to take your guns, your Bible, or your Ford F-150. The fact that none of these items are ever actually taken does not seem to slow the cries of warning. Every time an outlandish warning is made, and it doesn’t happen, a little bit of credibility is lost.

I know that I’ve been painting with a broad brush, but I think that it’s important to assert the culpability of all parties in the toxic climate we now find ourselves in. I fear that we are running out of words to describe reality when everything is hyperbolic. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, when one uses the word gargantuan often enough when they really mean large, gargantuan loses its meaning. A little piece of reality is lost to our ability to examine it with language.

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