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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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Are you ignorant or just plain stupid?
Jonathan Pait
October 15, 2003

 Americans seem to have lost our ability to discern. We are no longer able to distinguish between figures of speech and literal statements. When allowing someone to express his opinion we allow no room to be offended. Our willing ignorance of people and issues is beginning to make us look stupid.

We have some great examples that have been handed to us by the media over the last week. First it was Rush Limbaugh, then Kendel Ehrlich, and most recently Pat Robertson. The national media went hysterical over statements made by Rush concerning Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. They stood aghast over the "threat" to shoot Britney Spears and headed for the bunker to avoid the soon to come nuclear bombing of Foggy Bottom by the crazed Pat Robertson.

Hello, is anybody home? Are our brains in gear?

If there is one thing I have learned about many in the media, it is that they could care less about context. They are not as interested in presenting a balanced view as they are on finding that one sensational piece of the story that will move the dead trees from the forest to our door step. However, context is a must if we are to ever have substantive discussions on issues.

At the root of this is our overload of information. There are so many sources and so many issues that everything gets reduced to sound bytes. Imagine a conversation at the water cooler after one cubicle dweller reads the headlines in the Washington Post.

"Wow, did you hear what Kendel Ehrlich said?"

"No, what did she say?"

"She said that she would shoot Britney Spears!"

"No! I don’t believe it!"

"Really, she did. It says it right here in the Washington Post, ‘If I had an opportunity to shoot Britney Spears, I think I would.’"

"Oh, wow! Are the police investigating the threat? What a terrible woman, can you believe she is a governor’s wife?"

Okay, let’s grant that saying such a thing is not the smartest move in the world – especially in today’s hypersensitive climate and, at all places, a conference on violence! Let’s also not place all the blame on the part of the media. The listener also bears a responsibility to consider the context and the character of the person making the statement as well as ideological slant of the source of information. Discussion and dialogue requires an intelligent speaker and listener.

Do you really think that Kendel Ehrlich would shoot Britney Spears? Do you take the time to listen to the point she was trying to make with her figure of speech or do you ignore her message because you don’t like the way she expressed it? (Again, I do not absolve her from all blame, but we’ve read enough about that already.) I am amazed that this has become such a news story.

Then there is our good buddy Pat. Now, I need to clarify that there is no hot-line running from Bob Jones University to The 700 Club. So, people can stop e-mailing BJU asking us to explain why Robertson would say such a thing and what we plan on doing about it. The two organizations have no connections and have different views on any number of issues.

By the way, what did the man say? While conducting an interview with the author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Endangers America's Security. Robertson said, "I read your book. When you get through, you say, ‘If I could just get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom, I think that's the answer.’ I mean, you get through this, and you say, ‘We've got to blow that thing up.’"

Considering the ignorance (I did not say stupidity) the national media has of so-called Fundamentalist Christians, I can better understand how this incident became a reported story. However, once again, that ignorance has lead to an unintelligent response to a figure of speech. The informed listener – even one who has no great respect for Robertson – can see that this was not a threat but an expression of the frustration he had with the government department. It is very much akin to the Ehrlich statement.

The difference is that many in the media really think that Robertson would be capable of what he said. No, I don’t mean that he has the physical capability, but that he has the motivation and mentality to do so. They do not take the time to study the context of the man and the organization he leads. They lump him in with Islamic fundamentalists and abortion clinic bombers. Such a painting of the man’s character coupled with the sound byte leads to this hypersensitive reaction.

What Ehrlich said was, "Britney Spears is a bad influence. It is an influence that I wish we did not have in our society today." The focus was not Britney. The focus was on the culture. "Shooting Britney" was not a desire to knock off the singer. I was the expression of a desire to alter the culture. What Robertson said was, "The State Department is broken and is leading our country down a path of destruction. Something has to be done to change the direction." The focus was not on the buildings or the people. It was a focus on the ideals and policies espoused by the inhabitants. "Nuking Foggy Bottom" was not a desire to fry Colin Powel. It is a call for change of the department’s direction.

Such reactions to figures of speech can be excused when the listener is ignorant. However, when those reacting have opportunity to information that would dispel that ignorance and refuse to temper their reaction accordingly, that is prejudice. It is the media’s responsibility to provide context – not merely the context of an interview or preconceived viewpoint, but a context that allows the reader or listener to make a discerning conclusion of their own.

It is here where much of conservative America has a beef with our national media. We are given plenty of contexts, but we are left wondering if that information has been filtered through a prejudiced worldview. Often a journalist will discount or ignore aspects of a story because they are not consistent with that person’s take on the issue or the goal of their piece. Sometimes it is because the context is more complex than the journalist wants to take time to understand or express. At other times, it is simply because he has a disdain for the object of the report.

There are times I’d like to take the whole pile of them, tie them in a sack and throw them in a river!


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I am going to play "devil's advocate." (Please do not take this literally.)

The folks who look to Pat Robertson for guidance on politic issues probably span most of the right side of the spectrum. . . .

Read the rest.

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