Jewish World Review Oct. 28, 2002 / 22 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763
Because facts were few and public interest was so intense, TV and radio commentators were forced into the murky world of speculation and drama creation. Is Chief Charles Moose employing the right strategy? Should the authorities pay a ransom? What about the kids? And on and on.
It was almost as if an army of speculation zombies had broken into the cable news studios to spew unending opinions about the al-Qaeda factor, the mental state of the killers, their motivation, their personality traits. America needed actor Jim Carrey to stand up and scream: "Somebody stop me before I speculate again!"
Like any competitive sporting event, we had two teams -- the killing side and the law-enforcement side. Millions of Americans tuned in to see which side was making the play and how the other team reacted.
After a note by the killer was found by police, the media breathlessly reported that the sniper was threatening kids! Newspaper headlines screamed that no child was safe! But the note surfaced a week after a 13-year-old had been shot in front of his school. Any sane American already knew the killer was a threat to kids. No purpose was served by the media hyping a redundant and gratuitous fear quote.
Then we had a report that stated the sniper was annoyed that the hotline operators didn't respond adequately to his calls. Did any American need to know that kind of detail? Did it do us any good to know that? One radio moron even blamed the killing of the bus driver on a stressed-out person answering the hotline. I mean, how cruel is that?
Sooner or later we are going to have to confront the growing irresponsibility of the media in America. Of course, we can't have censorship because then the politicians would rule the world and get away with all kinds of stuff. But what about self-censorship? Shouldn't Americans be encouraged to embrace media that does not get hysterical? Shouldn't faulty reporting and foolish speculation be held against those who do it?
I can tell you that is not happening. Some of the most irresponsible talk radio and cable TV were rewarded with huge audiences during the sniper speculation. I think some Americans actually enjoyed the coverage. That is simply depressing.
The truth is this: No media person could possibly know what kind of job Chief Moose was doing because we have no idea what kind of information he had in his possession. We could not possibly have ascertained the true motives of the sniper because we knew absolutely nothing about him.
Because the airways are owned by you, the people, the electronic media has a responsibility to inform you with facts and responsible analysis of those facts. Once we strayed into the swamp of speculation, we actually became the sniper's accomplices, creating false illusions, promoting rank fear and giving those maniacs their constant dose of attention.
The sniper coverage has exposed the profit-driven American media for what it has become: A band of laptop-carrying marauders that have embraced blood sport with a vengeance.
Now that the suspected killers are out of action, we need to examine just how this terrible story was reported and expose those that profited from being irresponsible. We in the media, of course, will never police ourselves because to do so would damage a major cash business.
So, in the end, it will come down to you, the news consumer. We have you in our sights. And only you can change our aim.
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