Manufacturing Controversy

Yesterday the local newspaper, The Times Union, printed my letter to the editor. They subjected it to some slightly clumsy editing. They mucked up a couple sentences, added a pair of spurious quotation marks and changed my signature “for the childreeeeeeeen” phrase to the less interesting “for the children.” But they didn’t alter the essence of it. (I’m guessing the amount of time they spend editing such letters can be measured in minutes.) I was delighted they published it.

But if they hadn’t and I responded by screaming, “They CENSORED me!” and “They don’t want you to hear the TRUTH!” you’d think I was an idiot.

You’d be right.

This is exactly what happened with a TED talk about taxing the rich, given by entrepreneur Nick Hanauer. TED didn’t release it because because it was dumb, poorly presented and partisan. The outraged author manufactured a controversy, screaming censorship, and lots of dumb bloggers and newspaper columnists took the bait and helped his tantrum spread.

A half dozen of my Facebook friends joined the fray. They posted links to articles with titles that included: “Nick Hanauer’s TED Talk On Income Inequality Deemed Too ‘Political’ For Site,” “Too controversial: Why TED won’t post Nick Hanauer’s talk about taxing the rich,” “The ‘Tax the Rich’ Talk TED Deemed ‘Too Political’ to Post” and “The TED talk TED doesn’t want you to hear.”

I try not to visit TED unless I’ve got at least an hour, because their talks are so enthralling I am compelled to watch another, then another, then another until I look at the clock and say “damn, I’m late.” Their feature talks are inspiring, thought provoking and wildly interesting. I came away from one of them thinking fungus was just about the most interesting thing in the world. Seriously. (I got over it.) In the context of TED, Hanauer’s presentation was embarrassingly bad.

He starts out with the incredibly trite, “people used to think the earth was the center of the universe” bit. Really? That’s the best you can do? Then he claims that people who create jobs…don’t really create jobs. Sorry, that’s Just Plain Dumb.

He comes across as a lefty who’s embarrassed by his wealth and success and is trying to salve his conscience. He’s not completely wrong about everything he said. He just didn’t offer any of the insights that TED is famous for.

The curator of the TED web site explained all of that very clearly. They decided it simply wasn’t good enough. Nick’s whining about that would be akin to me whining about the Times Union ignoring my letter to the editor.

But he didn’t just whine. He created a fake controversy which took in a lot of gullible people who, had they thought about it for more than thirty seconds, or researched it for more than sixty, would have known better. They all need to recalibrate their bullshit meters.

BTW, here’s the mushroom guy. Compare the quality of his talk, on fungus, fer FSMsake, with the one by Mr. Lamo. (Warning: Do not click that link unless you’ve got an hour to spare, because after this 18 minute presentation you’re going to go to another and another…) This is the quality that TED requires before getting on their site.

Free clue for anyone who makes it to TED’s stage: If they didn’t select your presentation for the TED site, come up with a better one. Don’t whine to the world. Don’t manufacture a fake controversy. Yes, it will get you more attention in the short run, but in the long run it will simply highlight the weakness of your arguments, the triteness of your presentation, and the childishness of your personality. If TED doesn’t think it’s worth watching, they’re probably right.



1 Comment(s)

  1. While I didn’t hate Nick Hanauer’s talk, I didn’t find it all that enthralling either. I agreed with a lot of the points he made but quickly found myself opening up another tab and reading other things, and then his speech turned into so much background noise, and then I wanted to watch some YouTube videos so I turned him off. It just didn’t have the same oomph that most TED Talks have. But it could also be that I have the concentration skills of a squirrel on crack.

    Laura Ross | May 20, 2012 | Reply

Post a Comment