Friday, September 25, 2009


Timothy Stoltzfus Jost, Harrisonburg resident and a chaired W & L Law School professor, had a busy day yesterday. He came to the station at 11 in the morning to be interviewed by NPR's Planet Money team about the economics of health care. After that he went to Clementine Cafe, a restaurant in downtown Harrisonburg, to chair an open meeting on the same subject. This morning he has an Op-Ed piece in Harrisonburg's newspaper, the Daily News Record. The subject again was the economics of health care reform.

Professor Jost knows what he's talking about. So it strikes me that, although you may certainly disagree with Professor Jost's conclusions, the depth of his knowledge and experience with health care mandates that your disagreement be backed-up by reliably-sourced facts.

The on-line Washington Post has a "Discussions" blog/column on the National Football league aptly called "The League." (Okay, I've been an unabashed--and long-suffering--Redskins fan since childhood, and I do read the sports section right after the headlines.) Today, the question asked by "The League" is this: Should NFL stars like Brendon Ayandabejo, who supports same-sex marriage, feel obligated to keep opinions private? In other words, can the bully pulpit of fame be regulated by the National Football League?

The free speech issue involved in this seems pretty clear, don't you think? As American citizens we're all entitled to say what we please as long as we don't break the law. And in this case, it actually is interesting and brave to me that a man from the macho world of football (and a line-backer, at that!) would support gay marriage. However, it did set me to wondering about the attention we, as a society, pay to celebrity opinion in a national debate as compared to the attention we pay to informed opinion such as Professor's Jost. If Mr. Ayandabejo made the statement that health care reform is just another government plot to take our freedom, would we give his opinion as much credence as we give Professor Jost's, just because Mr. Ayandabejo is famous?

Long, long ago, when I was a Charlottesville TV talk show host, I asked Peter Taylor, arguably one of our finest southern literary writers, to be my guest on the show. Mr. Taylor said he'd be delighted to do a reading, but that he'd be uncomfortable doing much talking about himself or anything else. He was a fiction writer and a teacher, he said, which did not qualify him to rant about life or politics or world affairs.

As a young man, Peter Taylor went on, he'd gone to hear Robert Frost speak. Frost's poetry, he said, had opened worlds of thought and feeling and seeing that had not been open to him before. But instead of going deeper into those worlds, Robert Frost had loosed on his audience a vitriolic right-wing harangue. Peter Taylor said he'd vowed right then that, if he ever became well enough known as a writer to be asked to speak, he wouldn't. Seemed admirable to me then, and it still seems admirable to me now.

The point I'm making in this long-winded fashion, is that fame is not really a credential for speaking out about anything other than what one is famous for. Yet fame easily draws us more pedestrian souls into its orbit. And now that everyone -- including yours truly and every celebrity on the planet -- is blogging and posting and twittering on the internet, I just think we need to be extra vigilant about whom we're hanging out with; about whom we're listening to; about whose information and, even more importantly, whose opinion we accept as valid.

No comments:

Post a Comment