In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t posted in a while. I was sick and bogged down with crap for the past two weeks. But even in the midst of that haze, I simply could not avoid all the stories about the one guy who wanted to burn some korans on September 11th, and the people who are all upset over a recreational facility, called Park 51, complete with mosque, being built at Ground Zero.
The greatest thing about these two stories is that ignorance knows no region. The book burners are in Florida, but the mosque protestors are all over the country with many in New York.
The second greatest thing about these controversies is that many in the media, belatedly, acknowledged that it bears some responsibility for fanning the flames of the story about the book burner–and, by proxy, endangering the troops. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any in the media talk about how they should have covered these stories. Sure, saying that perhaps the shouldn’t have covered the stories at all, or given them as much attention, is great. But in this world of 24 hour news where we are constantly aiming to scoop a scoop, not covering something becomes more difficult each second another network gains viewers by feeding the mob. And giving a story that is growing in popularity “moderate coverage” is way too much to expect.
Rather than talk about whether or the the media should have covered the stories, I’d rather focus on HOW they should have covered them. Or, shall I say, how they shouldn’t have covered them. And that is, with legitimacy.
Sure there are some who’d say that treating a Preacher, like Rev. Terry Jones, who has a congregation of less than 100 like an influential figure as he plans to do something clearly bigoted is warranted. But there’s really not much to back that up. I can only assume that this story was covered for ratings purposes–but there’s a way to do that fairly responsibly as well. All you have to remember is this:
Just because there are two ways of thinking about something, doesn’t mean you have to treat both opinions with legitimacy.
This is the mistake the media made.
In conversation after conversation, pundits, talk show hosts, etc. asked their guests “What do you think of Rev. Jones’ plan to burn korans on September 11?”
Huh? Is there more than ONE way to intelligently think about this? No? Then why pose the question as though there is?
Of course most people opposed Rev. Jones plan–almost no one could be found to defend it — that alone should tell you how silly the whole thing is.
The best thing to do in a situation like this is to assume that there’s only one reasonable opinion to have and proceed to elevate the conversation. A better question to ask a guest would be “How can we begin to help everyone in America understand that we are in a war with terrorists, not Islam?” with the Jones story as the umbrella.
Same thing with the people who want to move Park 51. The question is not “Should the mosque be moved?” rather, “If we focus our anger and resentment on a “religion” how does that jeopardize our efforts to combat terrorism?” This is a method by which the media could actually elevate a conversation rather than leaving it in the slums where it began.
Additionally, in my research of the Park 51 story, I didn’t see any one articulate any reason NOT to put a mosque near Ground Zero that wasn’t bigoted or rooted in emotion. Asking people “Do you believe there should be a mosque near ground zero?” is something very different from asking “Should it be illegal to build a mosque near ground zero? If not, how should building owners decide when its tasteful to build and when not? How do we reconcile such opinions within the idea of capitalism?”
The latter form of questioning forces the responder to think about how you would structure such language that would prohibit the mosque from being built or in what circumstances would you ask a builder not to build something based on matters of taste. There’s really no way to answer that question in favor of prohibiting a building containing a mosque without sounding bigoted or uninformed e.g. not realizing or acknowledging that all Muslims aren’t terrorists.
One last note, in terms of responding to questions about the mosque, I felt influential Americans should have responded by dismissing Rev. Jones as the rare small scale bigot, pointing out that his following is near nil and in no way reflects the feelings of most Americans nor the values we hold dear in this country. Unfortunately, many of the statements I read droned on and on and elevated Rev. Jones’ status rather than briefly putting his existence into perspective and moving on to more important matters.
Perspective on these stories was grossly lacking on all sides.
I think that if the media concerned itself a little more with talent, it could probably elevate conversations and still make them interesting enough to get ratings. Either way, to cover two very low brow stories with such vigor and to then critique your coverage of it with no serious analysis of or attention toward better ways to cover such stories in the future is disingenuous.