Mea culpa runneth over, hard to swallow
“We of the press are like the fellow who did not have an enemy in the world, but none of his friends liked him.” John C. Quinn, former editor in chief, USA TODAY
Blaming the news media for all that’s bad in the world is akin to blaming the trees for the wind blowing.
Nevertheless, many blame us for a wide range of maleficence. Let’s cite just a few examples:
• The media drove airlines to overreact, ground planes and cancel flights by making a big deal of some loose wires on a few commercial airliners.
• Local media badgered Lute Olson and the University of Arizona basketball program so much that freshman Jerryd Bayless and sophomore Chase Budinger plan to leave the team to try going pro. And we drove the Ooh Aah Man into retirement.
• We are to blame for Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize because we promoted his idea that icebergs are melting, polar bears are dropping dead and seas are rising because of human-driven global warming.
• Most Americans oppose the war in Iraq because the media are so negative about it. Rather than that, we could list 4,000 reasons that people oppose the war. Make it 4,030 as of Friday.
• And this pointing of the finger, in a reader’s story comment on tucsoncitizen.com Thursday: “I’m convinced the dems and the media are to blame for untold US military casualties.”
• We are to blame for mean-spiritedness, vitriol and hate in society, another reader suggested. He said our policy of allowing anonymous comments on Web site stories is driving this truculence.
• House sales are in the dumper because the media keep reporting that house sales are in the dumper. So say some in the real estate industry.
• The Democratic presidential nominating race is devolving into chaos. Blame the media for focusing on race, gender, 3 a.m. telephone calls, whose minister said what, who’s a worse bowler, why one candidate wears pantsuits (don’t they both?), who called bs on the war first and on and on.
OK, granted: We in the media are to blame at the least for amplifying all that noise.
But come on now, we’re not to blame for grounded airplanes, basketball players dropping out of college or all that other stuff or even much of anything that goes on in the world, bad or good.
Our role is akin to what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and fellow civil rights advocates did in pushing for equality. They were accused of creating tension with their actions, but King deflected that.
“We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with,” he said in his eloquent Letter from Birmingham Jail in 1963.
What we do in the news media is similar: bring to the surface issues that are already churning below, issues that need exposure so society can debate them and move toward progress and solutions.
If you don’t want light shed on societal issues or if how we shed that light isn’t to your liking, then indeed, blame the media.
At the same time, know that we who act on the rights and responsibilities of the First Amendment will wear the blame as a badge of honor.
Reach Michael A. Chihak at 573-4646 or firstname.lastname@example.org