Item #1: In the days leading up to September 11th this year, we were beset by news coverage of the congregation in Florida who planned to burn copies of the Quran. As September 11th grew closer this news coverage was updated almost hourly with “new” developments and/or plot twists that were so numerous they almost seemed fiction. And throughout all the unremitting media coverage the one thing that kept running through my mind was “Why?” Why, amid all the possible news stories that can be covered, was the pastor of this congregation garnering all these minutes of airtime and all these column inches of print?
Pastor Terry Jones, who heads the Dove World Outreach Center and had the idiotic idea of turning September 11th into an “International Burn the Quran Day,” leads a congregation of approximately 30. That’s it. While he staged news conferences that gained international coverage, drew reactions from world leaders ranging from the Pope to General Petraeus, met with an Imam, and even finagled his way into the Mosque at Ground Zero controversy, he only leads 30 individuals! Why was anyone paying any attention to this man in the first place?
The Terry Jones story is symptomatic of an ongoing problem with our news media: in the zest to provide all sides of any news story, the media too often allows marginal and/or extremist elements coverage that they do not deserve. In this country, Jones and his followers are entitled to their opinions, and they are entitled to voice those opinions, but that right does not mean that they are entitled to command national – or, in this case, international – attention.
I was reminded of a short story by David Eggers, from his story collection entitled How We Are Hungry (McSweeney’s Books). In the story “Your Mother and I,” Eggers has a father narrate to his son or daughter (the gender of the child is never identified) the tall tale of how he and the child’s mother solved all the world’s problems – from renewable energy to world peace. While the story is presented as fiction, it also serves as a monograph on all the world’s problems lacking serious attention by any individual or group.
In one section of the story, Eggers addresses the problem with today’s news media coverage:
“I guess a lot of what we did – what made so much of this possible – was eliminate the bipolar nature of so much of what passed for debate in those days. So often the media would take even the most logical idea…and make it seem like there were two equally powerful sides to the argument, which was so rarely the case. A logical fallacy is what that is. So we just got them to keep things in perspective a bit, not make everyone so crazy, polarizing every last debate. I mean there was a time when you couldn’t get a lightbulb replaced because the press would find a way to quote the sole lunatic in the world who didn’t want that lightbulb replaced.
Eggers concludes with this analogy:
“…Honestly, when lynchings were originally outlawed, you can bet newspapers made it seem like there was some real validity to the pro-lynching side of things. You can be sure that the third paragraph of any article would have said: “Not everyone is happy about the anti-lynching legislation. We spoke with a local resident who is not happy about it …”
Terry Jones and his 30 or so followers wanting to burn approximately 50 Qurans (or the Eggers’ fictional pro-lynching advocate) are marginalized members of our society who, though their rights to their opinions are protected, should not be allowed to engender any type of serious national (or international) debate because the news media allows them to express their radical beliefs on the air or in print. American citizens who want to be informed and partake in serious debate need to demand more from our news media. Far too often, the news coverage we receive creates the news and the debates rather than reporting the news.
Item #2: The closing of the Door Reminder last week saddened me. I suppose many of you will be surprised by this reaction since I write and work for a competing publication, but since I worked for the Reminder for many years before coming to the Peninsula Pulse, I have many fond memories of my years there.
This column began in the pages of the Door Reminder back in 1993 when Paul Burton approached Bob Pohl and said that the Reminder needed something that people could read each week beyond press releases, ads, and classifieds. Paul went on to mention my name as a possible writer.
While I had done some writing for the Reminder’s Progress Edition, a weekly column was a new challenge for me and, given that I was still battling my alcohol addiction at the time, a significant risk for Lon Kopitzke (the owner of the Door Reminder) and Bob. Despite the risks they gave me a chance.
I continued to battle alcohol for a time, testing the patience of everyone who worked at Reminder, before I managed to stay sober. And once I became sober and managed to stay sober, there were no bigger supporters (other than my family) of my struggles than the folks at the Reminder. More than just support, the writing of this column in the pages of the Reminder allowed me to regain my confidence, which I firmly believe has been the key to my remaining sober through the years.
Like any work place, there were ups and downs at the Reminder in the years I worked there, but the friends I made and worked along side I will value the rest of my life. During my years of employment we created great publications, and we took pride in our work; so I bid a sad farewell to the Door Reminder even as the friendships I forged remain.