Consoler in chief? It’s a comedian (5×8 – 1/11/11)

Matching rhetoric with reality, silence speaks with a loud voice, from the newsroom to comedy, what hunger feels like, and embracing winter in Mahtomedi.


I’ll be on Morning Edition with Cathy Wurzer this morning to talk a little bit more about the post on mental illness yesterday. Because that requires me to fast-forward my schedule by a few hours — without impacting the walking of the dog — Five by Eight is a little thin this morning. You can compensate by adding your “hey, this is an interesting news nugget” in the comments section.

Update 9:09 a.m. – Here’s the segment, edited for time:

1) MATCHING RHETORIC WITH REALITY

“In the past, presidents have been able to unify the country during moments like these. But in today’s hyperpartisan political climate, even those potentially unifying moments can be hard to pull off,” NPR says this morning in introducing its segment on Morning Edition evaluating a president’s ability to calm people down in the wake of a national tragedy.

Indeed, it didn’t take long for people to gather in their respective political corners, and — without hard facts — adopt a basis to have another fight. And that’s why what Jon Stewart, who some people still think is a mere comedian, did last night is a national moment that should be savored. He delivered a masterful lesson on consoling in a time of tragedy. “Crazy always seems to find a way,” he said. “It’s important note to conflate our political opponents with enemies.”

Stewart urged us all to read about the people who were killed and hurt, and we’d learn the “anonymous good” that exists. “We hear about crazy, but it’s rarer than you think,” he said.

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As a comedian, Stewart has a better grasp on his role and importance in informing (let alone, entertaining) the nation than many of those who have the job description that compels them to do so.

Stewart wasn’t the only funny guy to say the things that serious people should be saying. Dale Connelly writes on his Trail Baboon blog this morning:


I told IKWIK that (he/she) should try crawling to a conclusion sometime, just to see how it feels. I try to take that approach and it gives me space to change my mind several times before I arrive at a point of view. I don’t get many raves for decisiveness, but people still seem to think I’m smart when really, the truth is, I’m just slow. Sometimes intelligence is simply a matter of waiting to be the last one to speak.

2) SILENCE SPEAKS WITH A LOUD VOICE

The commander of the International Space Station, whose brother is married to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, had some observations from space yesterday:

NPR’s ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, has not yet written about Saturday’s shooting, specifically what led NPR to report that Rep. Giffords had died. But yesterday she appeared on WNPR, along with David Folkenflik, NPR’s media reporter.

This exchange tells a little bit about Shepard’s thinking on the subject: There are sources who know and there are sources who’ve heard things.

Later this morning, I’ll be talking — I hope — with an old friend. Mark Moran was the Tucson reporter whose sources told him the representative was dead. He relayed it to NPR. We’ll try to dissect what happened.

FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver has a great idea. If heated political rhetoric equates to an increase in threats against Congress and the president, it should be fairly easy for the stat freaks to prove it…


The number of threats against members of Congress seemed to have been on the decline throughout most of the past decade. There is some evidence, however, that their number has increased significantly in the past year or two. The Sergent at Arms, for instance, counted just 29 threats against senators in 2009, rather than 49 in 2010. And there was a 300 percent increase in such threats against all members of Congress (both representatives and senators) in the first few months of 2010, according to the same office.

…It might also be possible, with careful study, to see whether there is a correlation between the frequency of different types of political rhetoric and the number of such threats. Searches of Lexis-Nexis, for instance, could determine whether violent political metaphors have in fact become more common, and if so, whether their timing coincides with with them.

It’s always better to have a conclusion backed up with actual data.

3) FROM NEWS BACK TO COMEDY

What’s the difference between being a TV reporter and an actor? Good question. MinnPost’s David Brauer has the — exclusive — story of former KARE reporter Scott Goldberg, who’s crossed over the thin line to fake news. He’ll be on Comedy Central as a fake-news correspondent for the Onion. Wherever will he find material?

4) WHAT HUNGER LOOKS LIKE

“It’s a hurting feeling. My stomach is in cramps, it’s whining, growling. … You get up, you drink a glass of water, and lay back down hoping everything will be OK.” That’s what hunger feels like, according to a woman in MPR reporter Julie Siple’s must-read piece on hunger in Minnesota.

The woman is raising five grandchildren.


“What do you say? ‘Stop being so greedy.’ It’s not being greedy. It’s me adjusting myself to what I can allow them to have on a daily ritual. I say, ‘Well, if I give them too much, they’re going to be expecting this every day.’ So I try to keep them on a routine. ‘This is all we can eat right now, let’s wait and watch TV, and have something later.’ And then I be hoping that by later they’ll be gone to sleep.”

5) EMBRACING WINTER (Mahtomedi version)

Who doesn’t want to try this?

(h/t: Perfect Duluth Day)

See, embracing winter is a matter of attitude. At least in Minneapolis:

Snowy trench run from Aaron Dabelow on Vimeo.

TODAY’S QUESTION

The suspect in Saturday’s shootings in Arizona had struck people who knew him as disturbed and possibly prone to violence. Whose responsibility is it to see that people with mental illness get help?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: When you wake up in the morning, do you think you should be the president of the United States? What makes a candidate think it’s a job they could do better than anyone else? What makes a candidate want the job at all? We talk to a political scientist and a former campaign manager to shine some light on these grand ambitions.

Second hour: In 1945, an American psychiatrist spent weeks analyzing Nazi war criminal Hermann Goering. His assessment raises troubling questions about the ability of ordinary people to commit extraordinary acts of evil.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: TBA

Second hour: A Youth Radio special from MPR News.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: The Challenge of China

Second hour: What should Obama do? (Rescheduled from yesterday)

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