Friday, January 14, 2011

Pima County (AZ) Sheriff Dupnik

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, speaking at a press conference after the violence perpetrated against Congresswoman Giffords in Tuscon, said, “When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government….The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous and unfortunately Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

News giants such as Brian Williams on Dateline, January 9, and Matt Lauer on Today, January 10, seemed as skittish as colts in the presence of such plain talk. Each was reluctant to endorse Dupnik’s point of view, perhaps because to do so would be to share the blame. After all, the collective media--not Williams or Lauer alone or in particular--are guilty of spreading half-truths, distortions, and outright lies. For example, when Sarah Palin and others began to use the phrase death panels to inspire fear and generate opposition to health care reform, the media did not challenge the use of the term. They simply reported it--as if their job is merely to regurgitate whatever newsmakers and celebrities say. If that is the task for the Fourth Estate, then they are little more than a ventriloquist’s dummy, mouthing messages they did not conceive and certainly did not critically consider.

The fake news, available on The Daily Show, August 20, 2009, exposed the lie by inviting Betsy McCaughey, one of the leading spokeswomen for death panels, onto his show and asking her to identify the passage in the health care bill that made death panels law. She hemmed, hawed, stalled, and read, but she simply could not do it because such inferences or conclusions were completely invalid--as invalid as the notion that health care reform is a government takeover, the phrase that was named Political Lie of the Year for 2010. Yet, the mainstream broadcast media, the source from which most Americans receive their daily doses of news, have spent precious little research time, much less air time, exposing the lies of death panels or government takeovers. In my opinion, their complicity has contributed to the divisive, vitriolic atmosphere that America now must endure. Politicians take advantage of this vacuum by seizing the phrase of the day and substituting it for genuine debate and discussion.

Let more Sheriff Dupniks step forward to exercise their First Amendment privileges. Let the other points of view be heard. Let the phrases of the day be challenged. Let the truth emerge from the marketplace, and let no more David Koreshes, Timothy McVeighs, Dylan Klebolds, Eric Harrises, or Jared Lee Loughners be misled by the inability to consider critically what they read and hear. Sheriff Dupnik is right and courageous: one need not pick up a gun to know that a shot will be fired somewhere, sometime.