If you think you’ve seen your quota of blood and tearing of flesh in a generation’s worth of Shark Week, think again. For the hunting and feeding habits of your typical Carcharodon Carcharias pales in comparison to your average television newsroom when it comes to covering tragedy.
Tragedy has always moved “product,” whether it be quantified via circulation or ratings numbers. At least in a newspaper, a story is followed by a single or pair of reporters who doggedly follow it from beginning to end.
Woodward and Bernstein would not have been able to keep their Watergate story to themselves in this day and age. There are just too many media outlets — from traditional newspapers and television news to the Internet.
It’s not progress. It’s more of what J.R.R. Tolkien observed: “Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbor, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”
Now, maybe utilizing a quote from the ultimate mythmaker to describe a television newsroom may be an example of my own prejudices and unfair characterization. I mean, I really don’t believe a television newsroom is a “yawning abyss,” and I will be glad to stipulate that the mental picture of some newsroom producer wearing a crown like Sauron and sending orc minions in the form of field reporters to do his bidding could be a tad over the top … but not by much.
The recent coverage of the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina, came close to pushing me over the edge and came very close to causing my imagination to run amuck with envisioning more than one newsroom master plotting how to get a hold of that “ring” of ratings supremacy by “cashing in” on the pain and sorrow and communal angst — created by a solitary individual bent on doing evil.
Of course, that was my personal take on the whole matter. If you watched televised coverage of the story then, or watch it now as the aftermath of this tragedy continues to cause ripples in our communal consciousness, the reason these innocent victims were gunned down in a house of God while they were at prayer was because of institutional racism, insanity on behalf of the killer, the gun he used, the NRA, the wrong-headed policies of one major political party and the wrong-headed policies of the other political party.
It was the kind of story television and media in general just cannot resist. It had everything: death, a lunatic killer and innocent victims. Add the racial component, throw in some selfies of the murderer posing with his gun and the Confederate battle flag, and the sharks in the newsrooms went into full Jaws mode.
I have no intention of re-fighting the American Civil War. There are enough people doing that now already. Addressing the role race has played in the history of the United States would take up all the space in this paper.
What I can glean from this horrible event is something the television, print and radio news media spent about 11 seconds on. But it’s something that’s haunted me ever since.
After the killer was apprehended, one of the requirements was some kind of initial court appearance by the accused. No idea what the reason for the appearance was and it doesn’t matter. What happened at that appearance was important … even more important than whether or not the Stars and Bars flies over a Confederate War Memorial or not.
At this hearing, the accused stood silently, with his oh-so-disturbing half smirk/half full frontal grin affectation and listened to the judge. Well, let’s say he heard the words coming out of the judge’s mouth, but if he was truly listening is anyone’s guess.
There were other people in the courtroom — very important people. They were the family members of the victims of the brutal killing inside the church.
They had lost mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers and grandparents in the slaying. They were the real victims of this case and the media was ready for a circus of venting righteous anger toward the killer.
The media was disappointed, perplexed and completely baffled by what happened. To a person, these extremely special people did express their deeper-than-deep grief, but then, in a moment of incredible Christian example, offered their prayers and forgiveness to the killer.
One can only imagine the level of confusion on the faces all the would-be Saurons in the newsrooms in New York and Los Angeles. They wanted screaming and yelling and hysterics … They wanted a vengeance arc …
They got the Gospel instead. They covered it ever so briefly and then got back to the Confederate flag and gun control.
These extraordinary people who are walking the walk — doing the hardest thing there is to do for someone claiming Christianity for their mantle — are an example to us all. Their hurt and their sorrow was pure, their forgiveness, humbling … something we all need in our hearts when our turn comes.