Friday 10 September 2010

With Media Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

I posted this on my Reuters AlertNet blog on 10 September 2010, following a Florida-based pastor's threats to burn a copy of the Koran. The whole thing was a downward spiral of stupidity: the hateful ignorance of a book-burner, the lunacy of the world media for giving Terry Jones any attention at all, and then, six months later when the act finally happened, the mob violence that killed several UN workers in Afghanistan in some bizarrely conceived retaliation. Altogether, you might call it one of humanity's more embarrassing moments of recent years... But while you may not expect any different from religious extremists, it was the role of the world media that most shocked me. I received some criticism for attacking the media response like this, but I stand by the argument in full: news outlets have power and therefore responsibility.


Looking at the dismal output of the international media in recent days, the only thing one can say is, shame on the lot of you.

The international media has elevated a non-entity lunatic to the heights of worldwide stardom in nanoseconds. Someone with a near-zero base of public support who wants to upset as many people as possible has been given multiple tribunes from which to incite hate and possibly violence.

Every even moderately sane public figure has spoken out against the preacher's intentions -- and with the media pushing the story at full bore, this has meant top-level political leaders, who presumably have better things to do, having to waste time damning the obviously damnable. Are they now expected to do this for every nutter who raises his head?

About the only public figures who didn't take this clear and sensible stand were the editors in newsrooms around the world. Why didn't they dismiss this story out of hand like most of the world managed to?

"But it was a story, so we had to cover it", will be the reply.

Nonsense. You made it a story.