There’s a Whole Lot of Crazy People in America

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Years ago the political blogosphere became overwhelmed by the growing popularity of Outrage of the Day™ blogging. These days there are usually four or five of these stories each day, all of them covered by the usual suspects before they move on to the next day’s outrages and all of them following a familiar pattern. Basically, somebody somewhere said something dumb/outrageous/offensive/whatever, which means we’re all going to spend the day explaining exactly why the remark was dumb/outrageous/offensive/whatever and why we’re personally outraged/offended/whatever by it.

I do some of this myself, so it’s not like I’m purer than Caesar’s wife here, but for the most part I find it pretty tiresome. However, via Dave Weigel, I learn today that David Wong has solved a problem for me: what to call this phenomenon. “Outrage of the Day” has never felt quite right, but I’ve never taken the time to figure out a better handle for it. Here’s Wong, in his listicle of “5 Ways to Spot a B.S. Political Story in Under 10 Seconds”:

#2. The Headline Is About a “Lawmaker” Saying Something Stupid

In every single group of human beings, you have a certain percentage of crazy shitheads. Find me an organization of a million charity workers who have devoted their lives to saving homeless golden retrievers, and I’ll bet my life that within that group I can find a faction of crazy shitheads.

….So if you see a headline citing something a “lawmaker” said, the first thing you should know is if it’s someone with actual power with implications on policy (i.e., a senator stating how he or she is going to vote on upcoming legislation) or if it’s simply a nobody who’s being held up as the Crazy Shithead of the Week (CSotW).

For instance, in the headline earlier about the CSotW comparing rape to a flat tire, the crazy shithead was a member of the Kansas state legislature — one of 165 members of the body that makes laws in Kansas. This guy is so hugely important that it took a whopping five thousand votes to elect him. You could fit every one of his supporters in a high school gym. Which is to say, he has just slightly more power to enact law than you do. And none outside of Kansas.

Wong’s point in the first paragraph is one that I usually refer to as the “300 million person problem.” The United States has a population of over 300 million, and that’s a number so vast that you can always find a large number of people doing some particular thing, no matter how stupid it is. Interest groups take advantage of this all the time, filling their monthly newsletters with outrages against common decency even though most of these outrages are, in fact, vanishingly rare. But in a population of 300 million, even 0.0000001% of the population amounts to 30 separate people doing 30 separate outrageous things every month. That’s plenty for a newsletter.

As for the rest, my only change would be to replace week with day. Or maybe hour. So the acronym probably ought to be CSotH. Welcome to modern politics.

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THE FACTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES.

At least we hope they will, because that’s our approach to raising the $350,000 in online donations we need right now—during our high-stakes December fundraising push.

It’s the most important month of the year for our fundraising, with upward of 15 percent of our annual online total coming in during the final week—and there’s a lot to say about why Mother Jones’ journalism, and thus hitting that big number, matters tremendously right now.

But you told us fundraising is annoying—with the gimmicks, overwrought tone, manipulative language, and sheer volume of urgent URGENT URGENT!!! content we’re all bombarded with. It sure can be.

So we’re going to try making this as un-annoying as possible. In “Let the Facts Speak for Themselves” we give it our best shot, answering three questions that most any fundraising should try to speak to: Why us, why now, why does it matter?

The upshot? Mother Jones does journalism you don’t find elsewhere: in-depth, time-intensive, ahead-of-the-curve reporting on underreported beats. We operate on razor-thin margins in an unfathomably hard news business, and can’t afford to come up short on these online goals. And given everything, reporting like ours is vital right now.

If you can afford to part with a few bucks, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones with a much-needed year-end donation. And please do it now, while you’re thinking about it—with fewer people paying attention to the news like you are, we need everyone with us to get there.

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