Persons of a certain age will recall how, back in the 1960s, we often would recoil at the latest news of blood and mayhem. It was a decade of assassins and murdered American leaders: John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy.
Those transforming events of domestic violence that occurred when my generation was young were sadly remembered this weekend at the news of attempted assassination of a Congress woman in Tucson.
This time, the news came in a short text message, a burst of breaking news describing the shooting of a public official who was unfamiliar to us. As the story unfolded, and the cable news stations scrambled to report, it was learned that up to 20 people had been shot, and the Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, was fighting for her life.
At this writing, we now know that six persons have died from wounds received in a burst of gunfire that lasted mere seconds. One of the victims is a little girl whose life span was framed by two acts of terror. The nine year old killed last Saturday was born on Sept 11, 2001, the day Al Qaeda launched its attack on America. Christina Taylor Green had just celebrated her first Holy Communion, and she was at the scene because she recently was elected to her school’s student government, and she wanted to see a national legislator up close. But Christina’s life came to an abrupt and violent end at the hands of another terrorist.
In a tragic irony, in a state known for its hostility toward immigrants, the alleged shooter is a home-grown, native-born, red-blooded American citizen. The 22-year-old Arizona terrorist is also now a cold-blooded killer.
The Saturday assassinations have sparked a national conversation over the toxic political climate that has swept our country. For too many years now, there has been a complete dumbing down of political discourse. It finds it roots in many mind-numbing. ill-educated politicians, who find cover from talking heads all across the media spectrum. Hate radio simply spawns more hatred among listeners; putative political discussions across the vast wasteland of cable chat shows devolve into mindless nonsense. In that world, there is no irrefutable truth, only aggressively asserted suspicions that masquerade as facts.
How else to explain new U.S. House Speaker John Boehner saying last week that the state of Hawaii’s certification of President Obama’s birth in that state is “enough for me,” even while stating it’s “not up to me” to tell birthers they are wrong!
The fact is, America’s airwaves have become largely a hot, boiling cauldron of untruths – lies, lies, and damnable lies. People like Beck, O’Reilly, Limbaugh, and others like them spin their yarns for one reason – to enrich themselves and their networks. It is way past time to say enough, no more.
One serious proposal for a course correction is a suggestion to convene the CEOs of the handful of major American corporations who control the greater majority of advertising dollars that make these programs profitable. The CEOs, their board members, and their ad agencies would be asked to come together to watch and hear some of the hate and venom that their advertising dollars support. It’s likely that most would be appalled at hearing the sort of nonsense they sponsor, and maybe through peer pressure, things would improve.
It’s a well-worn aphorism that people are entitled to their opinions, but not to their own facts. And when the media simply regurgitate the untrue rants of zealots, it might increase ratings, but it badly damages our society.
– Ed Forry