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Cable News is a Derivative of Journalism

Cable news is such a farce that it feels almost disreputable arguing over its contents, but I’m compelled to comment on Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly’s conversation about the pepper spraying travesty at UC Davis.


This is how Kelly euphemizes what the police did:

O’Reilly: First of all, pepper spray. That just burns your eyes, right?

Kelly: Right, it’s like a derivative of actual pepper; it’s a food product essentially. But a lot of experts are looking at that and saying, “Is that the real deal? Has it been diluted?

O’Reilly: They should have had more of a reaction than that.

Kelly: Ya. But that’s really beside the point, it was something that was obviously abrasive and intrusive. Several of them went to the hospital.

O’Reilly: They just wanted them to get out of there. Stop blocking what they were blocking – wanted to scatter them.

“It’s like a derivative of actual pepper.” Right, it’s like the cops are doing the kids a favor by teaching them about the financial tools they’re protesting about. I guess the officer just assumed they were all visual learners!

It is technically true that the compounds in pepper spray, the capsaicins, are a derivative of pepper. Although that is by no means a food product anymore than gold is a food product because you can ingest some gold flakes.

By casually comparing it to food peppers – even if true in a technical sense – deceives the audience about the severity of the tactic. Police officers purposefully sprayed a chemical agent into the eyes of peaceful students exercising their first amendment rights.

Notice how Kelly goes on to cite unnamed experts who question the potency of the chemicals. O’Reilly weighs in as if he knows how the kids should act after getting a proper strength dose of capsicum in their eyes. This is on a major news network. Couldn’t they have investigated and reported exactly the pepper spray used by campus police? The company that makes these orange band aerosols aren’t putting out a wimpy product:

The minimum required distance is 6 feet according to the label. Even the lower level commercial pepper sprays are intense. Here’s an overview by Scientific American of how hot and dangerous pepper spray actually can be compared to natural peppers.

As the chart makes clear, commercial grade pepper spray leaves even the most painful of natural peppers (the Himalayan ghost pepper) far behind. It’s listed at between 2 million and 5.3 million Scoville units.

Cable news may be a derivative of actual journalism, but it’s a euphemism to call it that.


(hat tip: Chris Caesar)

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