Beliefs, attitudes are important; behavior more so

October 30, 2023 3:00 am

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen talks to reporters after an event Friday, Oct. 20, 2023, in Lincoln. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

A sophomoric sitcom called “Men Behaving Badly” fouled our TV screens from September 1996 to December 1997, when it was canceled for low ratings. I would add for cause, too, but that’s just me. My take then, as it is now, was that we already had enough real men behaving badly. Why should I entertain myself with fake ones doing the same? Apparently enough viewers felt the same way.

A real-life reboot or rerun or sequel of “Men Behaving Badly” seems afoot these days, however. The 2023 version expands its cast to include political leaders, women and propagandists.

As you surely already know, Nebraska’s Gov. Jim Pillen recently said on a radio broadcast when asked to react to a story in the Flatwater Free Press about high nitrate levels on some of his hog farms, “… all you got to do is look at the author. [The] author is from Communist China. What more do you need to know?”

The ad hominem attack on the journalist who penned the story earned Pillen a well-deserved, widespread round of criticism for the slur plus some serious piling on because he admitted he had neither read the article nor planned to, leaving the environmental charge unanswered.

He later told reporters who asked about the criticism, that “my comments were my comments,” and he was choosing not to participate in a “sideshow,” his apparent assessment of journalists doing their jobs. Even so, the sideshow gibe was thematically consistent for the governor. During the run-up to the gubernatorial election, his campaign insisted that debates in which he refused to participate were “political theater.”

Some Nebraskans will agree with the governor; others may wonder what’s the big deal. I read one defense of his original aspersion, downplaying his remark as just so much political correctness. I was reminded that political correctness — however haywire or hard-to-understand it may have become — began because we realized the cost of the ongoing disrespect embedded in how we speak to and about each other.

All of which means we know little about where the governor stands on the notion that nitrates may be an issue on his business properties but plenty about how he sees his constituents.

At least he wasn’t making death threats.

That was a consequence of Congressman Jim Jordan’s failed attempts to become speaker of the House. Before the election-denying Ohioan could read the big block letters written on the sign the 800-pound gorilla in the cloakroom was carrying, his campaign for the gavel took a dubious and ugly turn. Not only did Jordan’s supporters in the House put on a nasty full court press of fellow representatives — Mssrs. Flood and Smith from Nebraska were yes votes for Jordan — social media, Fox News and a gang of online sites blasted those voting against Jordan.

As is our wont to do in modern America, we went from spirited, if partisan, debate to bad behavior to death threats in the time it takes to type a Tweet or dial a phone. Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon and his wife were targets of such menacing. Armed with the anonymity of modern technology from phony online usernames and accounts to spoofing telephone numbers, our public discourse appears to be further devolving.

Speaking of devolution, as the horrors unfold in the Middle East, a multitude of disinformation has confused and confounded our ability to get accurate news about one of the world’s ongoing tinder boxes. Even mainline journalists are struggling to sift and verify fact from fiction as online propagandists and trolls have jumped into hyperdrive. Imagine how debilitating this must be to loved ones holding out hope for hostages or missing family members and having to wade through the hoaxes and conspiracy theories and gaslighting and lies.

We now communicate chiefly online, the modern wellspring of information in a modern world that moves apace. Never before have we had the gift of such speed and exponentiality to educate and inform.

Yet, our superhighway is cluttered, sometimes jammed, with the trash of disinformation, often left there on and with a purpose. Who would behave this way? And why? Especially when war arrives, when to the critical demands of truth and accuracy, we add life and death.

By most measures “Men Behaving Badly,” which was based on a BBC sitcom of the same name, was a fairly serious flop on American television. It did get one thing right, however: Its title. Beliefs, attitudes, even policies are important. But what really counts is our behavior. And that includes how we treat each other and regard the truth.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

George Ayoub
George Ayoub

George Ayoub filed nearly 5,000 columns, editorials and features in 21 years as a journalist for the Grand Island Independent. His columns also appeared in the Omaha World-Herald and Kearney Hub. His work has been recognized by the Nebraska Press Association and the Associated Press. He was awarded a national prize by Gatehouse Media for a 34-part series focusing on the impact of cancer on families of victims and survivors. He is a member of the adjunct faculty and Academic Support Staff at Hastings College. Ayoub has published two short novels, “Warm, for Christmas” and “Dust in Grissom.” In 2019 he published “Confluence,” the biography of former Omaha World-Herald publisher and CEO John Gottschalk.