Who Should be on TV?

Should outrageous people like Pamela Gellar be invited to spread their message on national television?

The gang at Media Matters issues a “Memo to media: Pamela Geller does not belong on national television.”

Numerous mainstream media outlets have recently hosted right-wing “Atlas Shrugs” blogger Pamela Geller to discuss the controversy surrounding a proposed Islamic community center set to be built blocks away from Ground Zero. However, Geller’s history of outrageous, inflammatory and false claims, particularly when it comes to issues related to Islam, demonstrate that she cannot be expected to make accurate statements and should not be rewarded with a platform on national television.

Since I don’t watch much television news these days, I was unaware she’d been on.   But, in fact, they document six appearances on major national shows since May 15 talking about the community center controversy.   While I disagree with her, the views as well within the realm of the mainstream:

CNN’s American Morning hosted Geller to argue that the Islamic center was being built on Ground Zero’s “cemetery” and to rail against “Mosque-ing the workplace” and against “introducing Muslim prayer into public schools.” On the July 14 edition of CNN’s American Morning, Geller argued that “to build a 13-story mega mosque on the cemetery, on the site of the largest attack in American history, I think is incredibly insensitive.” She also described the mission of her group, Stop Islamization of America, as being based on the beliefs that “Islam should be westernized, that America should not be Islamisized. We don’t believe in Mosque-ing the workplace. We don’t believe in introducing Muslim prayer into public schools.”

NBC Nightly News gave Geller platform to discuss community center controversy. On the July 13 edition of NBC’s Nightly News, Geller said of the proposed Islamic community center: Why should there be a mosque in there? On the top floor, looking down at Ground Zero?” Under her name, NBC featured the text: “Stop Islamization of America.” Geller then added: “It’s offensive to people.”

So, she took the initiative to form an activist group that espouses a strong view — and one widely shared — on a matter of national controversy and is invited on to various television programs as a spokesman?   That’s been a staple of television news going back as far as I can recall.   That’s especially true of the various talking heads shows, which account for five of the six appearances.     So, why shouldn’t she be “rewarded with a platform on national television”?

  • Well, she “routinely uses downright outrageous, hateful rhetoric.”   Such as?
  • Obama “is a third worlder and a coward” who’s “appeas[ing] his Islamic overlords.”
  • Liberal Jews are “lost souls,” “self-hating wretches.”
  • “Jews Refuse to Get on Obama’s Trains.”
  • “What a freak show this presidency is.”
  • Obama “wants jihad to win. That’s what he is doing.”

Oh, my!

This stuff is colorful and over-the-top.  But no more so than a routine statement by Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton or Gloria Allred or your average right wing televangelist.    Polemical language, especially the type that fits on a bumper sticker, gets you noticed and hooks listeners and readers in for longer, more substantive arguments.

It’s not my style.  Maybe it’s why I seldom get invited to do national television?  But that’s how the game’s been played for decades.

Now, I’d be happy to see the game changed.  I’d much rather see substantive discussions with scholars and other legitimate experts, minus rhetorical excess and name calling.  So would, oh, about a dozen other people.   For profit broadcasters, though, are aiming for a larger audience.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. walt moffett says:

    guess the simple measure of flipping the channel or finding the off button is objectionable to some, though one wonders how much the need for content drives much of this on the web and TV.

    .If had my wish would see more of Steve Allen’s Meeting of the Minds, where various historical figures would engage each other or the trenchant social commentary of the Howard brothers and Fine.

  2. Davebo says:

    Polemical language, especially the type that fits on a bumper sticker, gets you noticed and hooks listeners and readers in for longer, more substantive arguments.

    Arguments that never come.