In the midst of the heat, savoring a summer breeze

Giving too much coverage to a hate-monger, not enough to a small wonder of nature

September 08, 2010|By Dan Rodricks

I hold in my hand two letters complaining about the news media — one from a woman who says we've given too much attention to the Quran burning in Florida, and one from a man who complains that we've given too little attention to something that occurs naturally and betters humankind.

"A small church in Gainesville has become a worldwide cause only because of the U.S. media," the woman, who asked to remain anonymous, wrote from her home in Baltimore. "If the little church in a small town had been left to its own devices the burning threat of the Quran would have remained a small local news item. Now it has become a worldwide crisis. When will the U.S. news stop its sensationalizing and start once again to just report important news?"

I guess the answer to that goes something like this: In today's world it is impossible to stop the preachers of hatred from spreading their twisted gospel. Even if the local media in Florida agreed to keep the Reverend Goebbels, or whatever his name is, out of its daily coverage, news of his plan would spread through the Internet and he would cause a worldwide sensation anyway; the mainstream media would then be accused of not having done its job, of being irrelevant, or politically correct.

Years ago, editors and reporters used to argue about whether we should cover gatherings of the Ku Klux Klan. Ignore them, one side said, and they'll eventually go away. Ignore them, the other side argued, and they'll gain steam; the forces of good need to know what the hate-mongers are up to. The latter won the argument; through most of the last half of the 20th Century, news organizations did not ignore the Klan.

Some people have a hard time understanding why the media reports the words and actions of demagogues and hate-mongers. It's because sometimes their actions rise to news — as the Florida Quran-burning story does in the midst of a national argument over mosques, Muslims and immigrants — and because it's the news media's job to present as complete a picture of our world as possible. The picture would not be complete if we ignored those who spew hatred.

Some people argue that it's not always necessary for us to present "both sides," particularly when one side seems so extreme, so irrational, perhaps even mentally ill. But if we did that, others would accuse us of bias. There are many Americans, after all, who don't see hatred, but simply a difference of opinion.

The other letter critiquing the news media came from John White of Stewartstown, Pa. His disappointment is not with too much coverage of a certain story, but too little.

He thinks that, in daily reporting on weather conditions, we've completely overlooked the importance of breezes.

I said breezes.

"None of the local weather reporters," he wrote in an email Wednesday, "will include in their forecasts information about the wind, at least in the warmer months. It's fair game in the winter, but seemingly of no import in the summer, yet a breeze can make a hot day quite tolerable. They give the comfort index, a bogus figure, based on temperature and humidity, but they don't factor in the effect of a breeze."

This is a valid criticism. While one does not associate summer with winds, except when the hurricane season becomes serious, one certainly thinks of breezes — and not because they are common, but because they are rare, and because they bring relief, if only temporarily.

Breezes are an invisible force for the betterment of mankind, the good against the evil twins of high temperatures and exhausting humidity. I have distinct memories of fantastic breezes that rose from nowhere on sweaty-hot Maryland days, gave everyone a kiss and vanished in a minute. I can think of four or five instances last month when I had to pause for a moment, as one would in another age and place for the king's passing carriage, to appreciate the breeze.

I didn't think of phoning it in as news at the time, but perhaps I should have. Perhaps, in a world too frequently loud, ugly and full of hot air, we'd all be better off to contemplate and savor the summer breeze. As Mr. White says, "A breeze can make a hot day quite tolerable."

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of Midday on WYPR, 88.1 FM. His e-mail is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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