A gentleman, and three other guys

Our coblogger Bob Frank was interviewed…that’s not exactly the word I want here…on Fox Business News by a blowhard named Stuart Varney about his interesting ideas that luck matters in life in addition to brains, hard work, and the other Horatio Alger stuff (Alger’s heroes always had an amazing and consequential stroke of luck along their hardworking way). Varney immediately personalized the question and hid behind his extremely delicate ego by saying he was insulted at the idea that luck had anything to do with his success, and his side of the conversation went downhill…again downhill is not exactly the word I want, I need something more precipitous, more vertical…from there.

Varney’s discourse was so painfully and radiantly deaf, ignorant, and stupid I have no patience to argue it, indeed to do so would insult the readers of this blog, not to mention that Bob already did. The issue here is his appalling discourtesy and cowardice. Of course Bob was a gentleman (a gentleperson is one who is at ease in any company) throughout, allowing Varney to demonstrate how essential luck must have been in his work history five different ways. It was like watching a pompous person swan around a room without knowing his pants are split.

But what I am asking myself, with no criticism of Bob intended, is whether his was the best choice. I have talked to reporters (not on TV) who were so clueless that I had to spend twenty minutes getting them to the point where they could ask the right question, but incompetence (or being assigned the wrong story by your editor) is never a excuse for a rude or insulting reply. In this case, however, Varney was (and maybe is all the time) a great crested son-of-a-bitch in addition to being an idiot. At what level of this increasingly common behavior is it appropriate to simply say, “Your rudeness and ignorance put me in a very difficult position, because there’s simply no gracious way to respond to you and do any good for your listeners. If you want to do all the talking, I’ll be on my way. If you want your listeners to hear from me, you will have to act like a grownup with manners.” And just leave if the abuse continues. I’m sure a couple of these, especially on a live show, would do wonders for the level of discourse on Certain Media Outlets.

The other instance of jerky behavior this evening was toward the end of Keith Olbermann’s show, when he and Michael Musto spent five minutes ridiculing Carrie Prejean. Carrie Prejean is a kid who is obviously at her personal limits looking pretty in a Barbie conventional way, ambushed last week in a Miss Something contest by a question about gay marriage that she had obviously never thought about for a minute, and stumbled through with a desperate, flailing grab at a home-and-hearth-values life preserver. Since then it has transpired that the contest paid for her breast implants. Olbermann and Musto (who is a fast-talking, smirking, vacuous sarcast who imitates a social critic) batted her back and forth in a performance that was about as funny as a rubber crutch, but less illuminating. I think the idea was that anyone wrong on gay rights, no matter how naïve, weak, or defenseless, is fair game for a cruel stomping, but this idea is wrong. Musto is just a misogynist with no pretension to be a gentleman (so why does Olbermann give him air time?), but Olbermann is not a trivial or a coarse person and knows perfectly well that a gentleman does not abuse women, especially when they are not present, so the whole episode was quite painful. Dorothy Parker eviscerated Clare Booth Luce at the Stork Club, not the cigarette girl.

I’m not sure Musto is capable of the remorse thing, but Olbermann should really be ashamed of himself, and if he’s any kind of a gentleman, he will put himself in World’s Worst Persons tomorrow night.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.