~It’s Not Easy Being Green ~
“It's not easy being green
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over 'cause you're
Not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water
Or stars in the sky”
Kermit the Frog -- The Muppets
In this Sesame Street song Kermit laments the fact that he doesn’t stand out, that he is the color of leaves, that “it might be nicer being red, or yellow, or gold.”
Today, it might be nicer being Kermit. Being different, it seems, can cause you to be hated and killed.
This reference to Sesame Street is not meant to trivialize the shooting and murder of six individuals as they prepared to start worship services yesterday in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. It is meant, instead, to point out the fact that the alleged killer, Wade Michael Page, is suspected of having white supremacist ties, that the people who were shot were killed because they were different.
Page, a 40 year old Army veteran, who served from 1992-98, was discharged “under honorable conditions, but with less than an honorable discharge.” The reasons for this type of discharge included disorderly conduct and being drunk on duty. He was not eligible for re-enlistment or enlistment in another branch of the military.
Apparently, he had had previous run-ins with law enforcement, but had done nothing to indicate that he was capable of a hate crime. Hate crimes are treated as domestic terrorism.
In 2008 Jim Atkisson walked into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee and opened fire, killing two and injuring eight. He said he did it because the church was “liberal”.
Interestingly, there is a community of about 30 Sikhs in Knoxville. When the shooting happened yesterday members of that community remembered the horror of 2008.
Much has been, and will be made of the fact that the attacks and murders were carried out with firearms, but the question that needs to be asked is why there is such an increase in the degree of intolerance in America and in the world in general.
The victims of the 2008 shooting in Knoxville were killed because of their religious beliefs. Were the Sikhs in Wisconsin attacked because of their religious beliefs, or of a mistaken belief that they were Muslim, in which case they would have still been killed because of mistaken religious belief? We won’t know because the shooter was killed by police after he shot a responding officer multiple times.
Regardless, the question remains. Why have we as a society become so intolerant?
Marty Kaplan, the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, lays the blame largely on the media. Hold on, you may say. The media gives us up to the minute news 24 hours a day. Mr. Kaplan holds that what we are getting is not the news. We are getting entertainment disguised as the news.
In a recent interview on Bill Moyers’ show, Kaplan claimed that the networks made a decision several decades ago to treat the news as entertainment, and to gear the reporting not to reporting the facts, but instead to reporting what those representing the sides of an issue claim the facts to be.
The unresolved controversy does two things; it keeps viewers hooked, unconsciously waiting for the controversy to be resolved and it sells advertising by doing so. Networks want to keep the “food fights” going. They want the controversy because humans have some basic need to have a battle going, to take sides, and to fight for their side.
Occasionally, in the past, there have been great journalists who carried out in-depth research, reported the facts, and, in doing so, risked their career and their employer’s reputation by standing up to untruths and tyranny. Edward R. Murrow did this speaking out against Sen. Joseph McCarthy. We know now what the outcome was, McCarthy was finally discredited along with his House Committee on Un-American Activities, but the outcome was not at all clear at the time. McCarthy had been unbelievably powerful, attacking and destroying movie stars, film moguls, and a variety of celebrities by claiming without any evidence that they were members of the Communist Party.
The problem with news as it is reported now is that due to the continuous bombardment by networks aimed at heightening anxiety, fear, and distrust, society becomes ever more distrustful of others and more polarized against those who do not think, or act, or look like them.
And so, the country becomes more splintered, less able to find common ground on any issue, and determined to destroy the other side, either figuratively, or in reality.
There are powerful forces in the country that like things this way. Religious leaders in certain churches thrive by highlighting the differences in their professed truth and the teachings of others, and consolidating control by heightening fear of those who don’t believe as they teach.
Politicians use fear to increase their own power base, and to gain support for military funding, thus supporting the power of the military industrial complex and benefitinf from the political and financial support those corporations give in return.
Remember that during the years following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 a system of terror alerts was established with yellow, orange and red indicating the increasing seriousness of the situation. Because of “security concerns” the nature of the threat could not be divulged. Additionally, there was no recommendation for a plan of action following changes in the threat level except to “stay vigilant”. The color seemed to move toward red every time some support for more military intervention needed to be gained. The Homeland Security department was engaged in peddling fear either intentionally or unintentionally.
Where is the source of salvation for the nation? The media has changed radically in the last fifty years. Print media struggles to survive. Reading a well written piece of objective journalism takes too long. We live in a world of 30 second sound bites which are much easier to swallow and digest because they have no substance.
Television networks have relegated journalism to the entertainment department. Kaplan maintained on the Bill Moyers show that in a 30 minute news segment there is, on average, 20 seconds of fact reporting. Television stations have had their options for network affiliation reduced to conglomerates owned by a handful of individuals; networks that all have the same business model.
The internet has the potential for change, but as it now exists it is not trustworthy enough to be a credible force for change.
As we all know, one can read anything on the internet and the blog that claims aliens have been taking babies from their cribs and experimenting on them has the same value as one that practices good reporting.
Once upon a time articles in newspapers, and reports on the six o’clock news could be trusted to have adhered to the highest standards of journalism, reporting only after two or three independent sources verified the accuracy of a story, and then reporting the facts, not someone’s opinion of the facts. The network was the guarantor of accuracy and standards. The internet has websites that attempt to achieve those standards, however, they adopt in many respects, the model of the news networks as they now stand.
One possible way to achieve internet reporting that garnered respect and trust could be an independent association of internet journalists with standards for admission to the association with peer review of articles.
It may be that there is no way out. It may be that the public wants the arguments, wants the toxic news cycle, and is too dumbed down by the current standard of the newsto ever follow well reported, factual, but less entertaining offerings. If so, we will see ever increasing violence and the incidents in Aurora, Colorado, Tucson, Arizona, Knoxville, Tennessee, and Oak Creek, Wisconsin will become commonplace. The conversation will continue to be about the motive of the shooter and the debate over gun control.