“Civility” & The Press

inflammatory news storiesSo, how much responsibility does the press hold for keeping civility alive?

Does having a free press – which is a  cornerstone of American greatness – include a “no holds barred” approach to news reporting, printing/airing pretty much anything?  Or with great power, does great responsibility as well reside?

Take “reverend” whathisname who got the press in his pocket with his threat to burn the Koran.  The question afterward – How far would that situation have gotten if the press chose to ignore him? – was asked indignantly but never answered.  It’s well known that more stories are not reported than those that are, so we turn to the criteria for choosing one situation/comment/behavior, over another, thus considering it more “newsworthy”…

We’ve also known… for decades… of the ever-increasing needs of a starved 24/7 media system more intent on trumping the competition for 60 seconds than it is on the nation’s greater good…which both sides of the media aisle (“liberal” or “conservative”) claim as their motivation.

So: Is it the media’s responsibility to opt to report only the less inflammatory items in the best interest of improved national discourse aka not stoking crazy people, or is it our responsibility as media consumers to refuse to support such presentations by tuning out rather than droolingly tuning in when they go for the jugular to get better ratings?

They claim to be simply providing what the public wants; the public decries violent rhetoric that almost killed a Congresswoman yet continues to seek out blood in the water; Congress responds by considering a movement back about 150 years to the Wild West & takes a 2 minute break from name-calling; no one shows a modicum of true determination to end their part in this vicious cycle.

Here’s the real and most important question: If the media were to take their responsibility far more seriously, eg take the higher and more journalistically pure road, refusing to report nonsense as “newsworthy” or vitriol as verity, would it help make us a tad more “civil”?  Follow-up questions: would that be the end to the 24/7 news cycle, and the closing of more newspapers?  Is it a worthy price to pay for a nation ever more torn by extreme, and therefore extremely easily stoked, anger and personal dissatisfaction?

Once you’ve answered for yourself, we’ll have ourselves a start down the road of either less, or more, civil discourse.

Republican Vitriol the Ignition to AZ Tragedy….Really?

arizona shooting of congresswomanI just received an email from a trusted colleague, containing the following:

Sara Palin needs to in some way be held accountable for what happened in Tucson yesterday.


My reply speaks to what’s really the issue on this subject roiling the nation/press after the Arizona tragedy:

“As much as I agree that Palin and all who resort to violent imagery/speech (the vast majority of whom are Republicans) are part of the problem, feeding sick minds with equally sick ideas of what’s fair or necessary to “reclaim our country” – and agree that there must be enormous pressure on them to cease such vitriol – I believe by focusing on them as a root cause (e.g. “holding them accountable…) we lose sight of a much larger problem needing redress…
…That ever more young people (the vast majority of those in the past 15 years who have perpetrated mass killings have been kids under the age of 25) are feeling either so worthless, powerless, or both, that they go almost literally insane, get a gun that is so easy to acquire (this last kid’s gun was purchased legally) and commit atrocities against others.
We (Boomers) sat-in, marched, protested….they kill.  With or without SP, they will do so…they’ll find a reason somewhere.
Our grandparents were labeled “The Lost Generation”…apparently we now have another…”

Thinking for Ourselves…What a Concept!

A woman in Utah is suing Google because a route she took using Google Maps landed her at a 4-lane highway where she was subsequently hit and injured while trying to cross.

Relatedly, a 1998 study of London taxi drivers showed their hippocampi to be much larger than normal due to all the “mental maps” they stored over the years in their work; scientists fear if those same cabbies start to rely too heavily on GPS rather than their own brain power, their hippcampi will most likely shrink along with their self-developed mapping skills.

Folks in Florida, and no doubt other states, are indicating they’d vote for candidates based solely on their TV ads, in spite of (in Florida) both candidates’ dubious past business practices (one ran a company indicted for Medicare/Medicaid fraud; the other made his zillions on the subprime mortgage mess that put the state/country in turmoil)

We’re led to believe that “multi-tasking” is an important part of getting ahead in the 21st century, when research clearly shows that heavy multi-taskers have “fractured thinking” meaning they have greater difficulty filtering out irrelevant information, which in turn greatly reduces an ability to focus; our brain power actually diminishes.

Folks watch Glenn Beck/MSNBC, or listen to sound bites on CNN, using others’ thoughts, or blurbs that offer far too little information, to replace  a cultivation of their own independent thinking and issue assessments through research, fact-finding, and good old deductive reasoning (comes in handy when politicians and media pundits contradict themselves, which they often do to sound good at the moment).

Before 24 hour news and the world wide web, we had to rely much more on discussions/debates with friends/colleagues/acquaintances – which also meant we weren’t as able to “filter” out those with whom we may not agree as we can now by attending to only the shows/web-info that feed our biases.

This in turn compelled us to rely more heavily on our own ability to form judgments and assess situations to make an informed decision (we knew that crossing a 4 lane highway has inherent dangers of which we must be keenly aware prior to attempting…); there was little else to turn to (well, the rumor mill will always be available…).

It also forced us to take a broader view of situations rather than continuously and by design sustain an “information bias” – the fact that some of those folks with whom we “debated” the issues of the day were not in agreement with us made us, at least for the duration of that discussion, hear opposing points of view and the thinking behind them.  Even if no minds were changed at the moment, at least we got out of our very narrow perspective for a short time…and doing that enough times, over time, can make one a tad more broad-minded.

The more we abrogate independent, informed, self-developed thinking, just like not voting, the more we allow everyone but ourselves to ultimately control our lives.

No wonder we’re so angry.