Giving widespread attention to mentally disturbed people whenever they act out is bad for the mentally disturbed because it gives them the wrong signals about how they should behave; and bad for the public because it serves to inflict their insanity on people who are trying to lead sane, responsible lives. This is why most major news media have tended to exercise sound judgement and refused to give air-time, column-inches, or any other form of attention to people who are clearly not of sound mind.
Until today, that is. Today, in the midst of a rising tide of anti-Muslim hatred incited by right-wing Republicans disguised as populists, one pastor in Florida, whom no one has heard of before, with a congregation of around fifty people and no connection to any policy-making institution, has announced that he will have a Koran-burning party this 9/11. And for no reason yet visible, our entire national media have conspired to make this particular mentally-ill bigot a celebrity.
And as a direct result of the media's decision to give this lone loser and disgraced religious cult-leader a place in our national debate, General Petraeus has had to beg him not to have his book-burning because it might provoke a backlash among Afghans and Iraqis that would endanger our troops and compromise their mission (both of which the General, not the loony pastor, will answer for). I am totally in agreement with Gen. Petraeus on this, but I deeply regret that he had not chosen to talk to the heads of our "news" media instead of this otherwise irrelevant bigot. After all, it is not the lone bigot whose actions endanger our troops; it is our media's decision to pretend this bigot is relevant, and to actively assist in broadcasting his sick, stupid hatred all over the world.
Instead of seeing this isolated lunatic in a vacuum, let's look at his place in a much larger picture:
1) An infidel foreign power invades one Muslim country, its leader uses the word "crusade" and then says he's not at war with Islam in general, and then he invades another Muslim country under false pretenses and without provocation.
2) The leader who ordered the anti-Muslim wars is replaced by another guy who tries to act a little friendlier toward the Muslim world -- only to find himself attacked, hounded and undermined by the same people who had instigated the anti-Muslim wars. And they're calling the new leader a Muslim as a means of inciting bigotry against him.
3) The anti-Muslim-warmonger party takes active measures to incite EVEN MORE fear and hatred against Muslims all over the infidel-invader nation.
And then, on top of all that...
4) The infidel-invader's national media establishment suddenly trots out a discredited cult-leader whom no one's ever heeard of before, advertizes his planned book-burning party all over the world until truckloads of Muslims -- already pissed about items 1, 2 and 3 above, remember -- understandably feel even more insulted. And now, as a result of the national stature given him solely by the media's capricious decisions, suddenly our highest political and military officials are gently, timidly, politely begging him to change his plans, and he's able to turn up his nose and promise to think about it. (He is now promising to reconsider his plans, if only the President would talk to him directly.) In other words, a world power's sensible elected officials are stumped by one mentally-ill con-artist dredged up by a handful of corporations. Does that give you any idea what the outrage in the Muslim world is really about?
And by pleading with the least sane, least powerful, and least responsible player in this little drama, our government has effectively given away the game to the right-wing media. In my opinion, President Obama should not even talk about the loony pastor, let alone to him; and should instead invite the CEOs of our national media corporations to the White House, ask them to stop covering loony pastor and his planned book-burning, remind them that his place on the national stage was created only by the media, and then clearly promise that the CEOs' judgement, patriotism, values, and maturity will be judged by the extent to which they comply with his polite and perfectly reasonable request.
This is not about a discredited right-wing preacher burning the Koran. This is about our national "news" media creating dangerous events out of nothing, without regard for the consequences. This is about our national media's depraved indifference to the interests of the public and the nation they claim to serve.