Month: November 2016

From whom does my help come?

When I was a little girl, maybe six or seven years old, my family and I visited some relatives in Philadelphia, PA.  I was upstairs with my brothers and cousins and developed a nose bleed.  I was upset at the sight of blood and went downstairs, running to a relative for help.  Upon seeing me, this relative reared back her hand and slapped me hard across the face.

Others at the table where she sat were taken aback by her reaction, as was I.  I began crying, and she immediately explained that she thought I had gotten into my aunt’s makeup and had smeared red lipstick all over my face.  She didn’t realize I was bleeding, and felt badly about hitting me.

I share this story with you, because I feel we, like this relative of mine, have lost sight of what a cry for help looks like.  We aren’t reacting with compassion and a desire to understand, but rather with the same stinging slap I received as a child.

The election of Donald Trump is a cry for help from unemployed, or under employed white rural voters.

Players and band members sitting during the national anthem is a cry for help from people of color who are scared of their loved ones or themselves, dying during a routine traffic stop.

The speech from the cast members of Hamilton was a cry for help, asking our elected officials to acknowledge the racism, religious intolerance and misogyny experienced by our fellow Americans.

Women organizing to march in Washington is a cry for help against unequal pay, unwanted sexual advances and discrimination in the workplace.

Even the alt right, with its desire to develop a white nation state, is a cry for help as white people acknowledge their dwindling role as the majority in our country.

Clearly, there are several citizens who are not feeling a need to cry for help.  What race, sex and income group do you feel comprises the safest Americans?  If you can guess the answer as easily as I can, maybe we can all at least agree that while there is a percentage of our countrymen doing quite well, there are an awful lot of people who are experiencing a great deal of pain.

Maybe some of those people who are struggling will be sitting around your dining room table this Thanksgiving.  Maybe some of them didn’t vote for your candidate.  Maybe some of them don’t share your views.

What if, instead of arguing or choosing to ignore each other, we each asked, “how do you feel let down or left out?”  “What are your biggest worries?”  “What are your biggest fears?” and “What change do you hope to see?”

And perhaps most important of all, “what can I do to help?”

Many of our friends, neighbors and family members are issuing cries for help.  What if we lend our ears and listen to them instead of being quick to react and perhaps cause unnecessary pain?

On behalf of the Important

In October of 1995 I was working at a PBS affiliate in Pennsylvania.  On the third of that month, we all gathered together in one office to watch O.J. Simpson be declared not guilty in the murders of his ex-wife Nicole and Ron Goldman.

The trial had occupied water cooler conversations, dinner table discussions, print media, late night talk shows and evening news, except in one news outlet—The MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour. 

Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer never discussed the case.

Their lack of coverage prompted questions and criticism.  They lost viewers because people were eager to hear that day’s trial be recounted in detail on competing networks.

In an interview where they were asked why they didn’t cover the case, they said something worth mentioning on the eve of this historical election.

I’m paraphrasing, but what they said was something like, “We report the news that is important.  There are lots of stories that are interesting, and this case is interesting, but it is not important.”

Before MSNBC, CNN, Fox New and the myriad of other news outlets came into being, there was a half hour or an hour evening news broadcast on CBS, NBC, ABC and PBS.  The producers for these shows had to gather all the countless news stories of the day and decide which ones merited ninety seconds to three minutes of coverage.  It was an extensive culling process and the majority of the stories never made the air.

Then there was the explosion of cable TV news outlets with twenty-four hours of air time to fill.  It was the perfect place to air all the news stories that had been previously been edited into extinction.

Imagine trying to fill 24 hours with information.  It may not have seemed daunting, but then we watched as media mega star Oprah Winfrey launched a network which airs countless hours of reruns and refurbished crime stories.

It isn’t easy to fill twenty-four hours and maintain high standards.  What was once deemed interesting but unimportant suddenly makes the cut.  Sometimes it’s the lead.

So many of us are unhappy with the media.  We feel they are biased-they are.  We feel they don’t show the complete story—they don’t.  We feel they are trying to influence the election.  I didn’t think that was necessarily true until I heard Katie Couric respond to a comment that her interview with Sarah Palin had ruined McCain’s campaign, and she said, “thank you.” 

Media outlets are giving us what we want, what we will tune in for, listen to, read and share.  We go to the ones who share our views.  There used to be the Fairness Doctrine which required broadcast licensees to present the news in a manner that was honest, equitable and balanced.  The FCC eliminated this doctrine in 1987.

If you feel the country has gotten more partisan, it has.  It began in earnest with the repeal of this doctrine.  If you don’t like the media, know that they will change when we change what we want to see, hear and read—or when the Fairness Doctrine returns.

Until then, what’s interesting will win every time.

 

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