Tag Archives: cable news

Matt Drudge and the New Media Cynicism: We Could Use a Little Good News

“Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?” Sgt Oddball (Donald Sutherland) Kelly’s Heroes

One of my favorite characters in a war movie is that of Sergeant Oddball played with such great aplomb by Donald Sutherland in the 1970 film Kelly’s Heroes.

Oddball is an unlikely hero. In the midst of war’s desolation he finds purpose, in a decidedly hippy sort of way. He is determined that no matter what happens in the war that he will try to be positive. His attitude is something that I wish most of Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers would somehow whether it be through diligent study or divine revelation discover.

I look at the Drudge Report every day. He is probably the most influential individual in media today. Millions of visitors flock to his website every day. His traffic is off the charts.  Now I don’t know Matt Drudge, I just know that he has a large amounts of links to various stories and websites and I use him to jump off to see what he is reporting. He basically is show prep for most of the conservative media and blogosphere, not that there is anything wrong with that.

Drudge makes no bones about his conservatism. I remember reading him when he helped blow open the Bill Clinton- Monica Lewinski “it depends of what your definition of is is” sex scandal back in 1997. So I have been reading him for 15 years and have seen how his influence has grown.

However as I noted in a previous article called The Drudge Distort he often will twist the meaning of an article that he links to with a headline that does not resemble the actual article. His website is laid out brilliantly to define a number of breaking news subjects and form them in such a way that a reader who does not actually read the articles that he links to, simply sees a salacious, cynical, conspiratorial and just plain negative picture. It is positively depressing to look at his site.  Simply look at the site layout daily. If there is a big story Drudge will have several headlines to links which mold the way a story looks and when you dig deeper you find that the actual articles don’t say what he is saying.

While the site is heavily tilted towards politics which is perhaps one of the most cynical enterprises that one can report about, the cynicism of Drudge appears to me to color everything that he reports about: sports, culture, entertainment and even religion. There almost nothing hopeful on it, unless one is into some dark schadenfruede that rejoices in the misfortunes of others. Thus it is no wonder to me that so much of the country which is influenced by the Drudge Report is so negative about everything.

Personally I don’t care how he breaks news before media behemoths. I think that a free and independent media is important and that Matt Drudge does a hell of a job at breaking news. Admittedly a lot of news is bad now days. Headlines are all that many people read when they go to Drudge and so the way he presents the news is as important or possibly even more important than the actual news

The dark and cynical message of Drudge is echoed by much of the media, both the New Media and the Mainstream media. Coupled with the 24 hour, or should I say the 1440 minute daily news cycle Drudge feeds the angst of the nation which now feeds on negativity and is amplified by cable news and the multitude of “news” services, political pundits and even preachers. Media outlets echo off of each other be they from the left or the right of the spectrum and Drudge helps drive them.

I really think that this dark culture that pervades almost all of the media is quite destructive to any productive political or cultural discussion. This is the kind of media that helped destroy the democracy of the Weimar Republic and pave the way for Hitler whose media gurus Josef Goebbels and Julius Streicher understood this better than almost all of their contemporaries.

I wonder about the mind of someone who can constantly not only dwell on the negative found in any situation but must then ensure that everyone else is infected with this. I worry about people who do that. This is not just a criticism of Drudge, but the whole media complex. One can look at history and see similar whatever media the Yellow journalism of the 1890s and

Yes there is a lot of bad news in the world. But there is also a lot of good news, except those that make the big money in media find that bad news brings in more money than good news. Admittedly some reporters will throw in the obligatory tear jerker or good news story the rends our hearts, but even then for every good news story there are scores of bad news stories.

Anne Murray had a hit song in the early 1980s called Little Good News”  the last part of which said:

http://vimeo.com/5943612

I’ll come home this evenin’

I’ll bet that the news will be the same

Somebody takes a hostage, somebody steals a plane

How I wanna hear the anchor man talk about a county fair

And how we cleaned up the air, how everybody learned to care

Whoa, tell me

 

Nobody was assassinated in the whole Third World today

And in the streets of Ireland, all the children had to do was play

And everybody loves everybody in the good old USA

We sure could use a little good news today

 

Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town

Nobody OD’ed, nobody burned a single buildin’ down

 

Nobody fired a shot in anger, nobody had to die in vain

We sure could use a little good news today… 

I just wish like Sergeant Oddball that Drudge would drop his sky is falling message and actually report something hopeful for a change. The Apostle Paul once said “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” 

I just wonder what would happen if someone in media, maybe even Matt Drudge actually took that advice. But then maybe I am just a dreamer.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under movies, music, News and current events

The Heresy of Thinking and Reason in an Age of Fanaticism

Note: I felt the need to republish this article in light of so many of the controversies that have been in the news lately, especially because some of the visceral reactions that I see from so many people about them. I just hope that people take the time to try to get as much of each story and controversy possible, examine them in the light of history and reason before jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions. The fact is that many of us do precisely this and that is in large part due to how terribly divided we are. However, that being said there is seldom any issue that is totally clear, most actually are quite opaque and clouded in the fog of many shades of gray, and what history teaches us is that we need to be careful before jumping to conclusions.

Peace

Padre Steve+

“Unreason and anti-intellectualism abominate thought. Thinking implies disagreement; and disagreement implies nonconformity; and nonconformity implies heresy; and heresy implies disloyalty. So, obviously, thinking must be stopped. But shouting is not a substitute for thinking and reason is not the subversion but the salvation of freedom.” Adlai Stevenson – A Call to Greatness (1954)

I had a Church History professor in seminary who was known for his attention to detail and his expectation that his students would master the subject.  His method was quite simple. A fellow student asked him during review for a mid-term exam “what do we need to study for the test?”  His answer was simple “everything.” The student restated his question “what do we really need to know?”  My professor paused and made a comment that did not make the student very happy.  He said something that I paraphrase here “it is the details that enable you to see the big picture, without the details you know nothing.”

A good number of my fellow students did not appreciate the fact that he was deadly serious.  It was not simply the ability to remember names and dates and events but to be able to connect them and see what was really important.  Many did not take him seriously and when the test came many failed it.  In fact some continued to fail every exam because they could not reconcile that details were important. The attitude of a good number of my classmates was that history, philosophy or even systematic theology were not important especially if they involved study of people or ideas that they did not agree with.

Unfortunately we now live in an age of anti-intellectualism and anti-historicism. Instead of trying to figure out what is really important and studying the details of the great questions of our day we have become lazy. We simply fall back on the dogmas presented by the Unholy Trinity of Pundits, Politicians and Preachers that cater to our ideology for reassurance.  And they are quite good at co. If you listen to talk radio or are a devoted fan of any particular cable news pundit you can see this on display daily and even more so by our political leaders and those seeking political power. What is presented by the Unholy Trinity is at best half-truth sprinkled with deadly venom of hatred to make the half-truth an absolute truth.  In such a world facts are only important if the “true believer” can use them buttress his ideological bias even if he has to take the completely out of context to in order to do so.  It is so much easier to call an opponent a Communist or Nazi, Fascist or Imperialist, Unbeliever or Heretic and connect them to the evil we want to demonize them as than it is to actually,  engage in a truthful debate and to see things in their historical context. Likewise when we use such labels against those that disagree with us we dehumanize our opponents thereby justifying any evil that we use to silence them.

It seems that we presume that if we repeat what we believe enough, even if it is unsound or erroneous that it will become truth.  As individuals, governments, institutions and businesses we settle for the easy answers that agree with our presuppositions and dismiss opposing views as heresy.  We allow people of little learning but great charm and salesmanship ability sell us myth in place of fact and this happens across the political, social, economic and theological spectrum.

The past few days I have been talking about the study of history as well as ways of learning.  The little things do matter, and the study of history, philosophy, theology, the sciences, economics in fact anything of any importance is based on understanding details, and things like precedent and context.  It is not enough to string together a series of quotations or citations if they are taken out of context, altered or intentionally misused to fit our ideology or doctrine.

This may comfort the true believer in whatever cause and even make them feel superior to those that disagree but such thinking. But it blind them to reality and not conscious of their own envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. The “wall of words” that flow so easily from the mouths and pens of the members of the Unholy Trinity that the faithful are unable to separate them from reality, truth from fiction, opinion from fact.  This “wall of words” serves as their protection against any thought, fact, presumption or doctrine that contradicts them.  John F Kennedy said “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” 

In such times it is important to take the time to learn from history, not just generalities that mix fact and myth but the little details that make up history and for that matter the sciences, philosophy, sociology, political thought and theology.  As a society we have ceased to do this and until we take the time to return to such study, dialogue and put aside our blinders we will be doomed to remain as we are no matter what political party is in power or ideology dominates the airwaves and cyber space.

There is a prayer that neatly sums up what I desire for me and for our society:

From the cowardice that dares not face new truth
From the laziness that is contented with half truth
From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,
Good Lord, deliver me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

The Sacrament of the Smile….Making it Real

In Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie Ryan mystery “The Archbishop in Andalusia” the character Bishop Blackie makes a comment after celebrating Mass in the cathedral at Seville. He said “Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)

I’m the kind of person that if I’m angry or not doing well my face can show it even if I don’t want it to.  It’s sometimes hard to hide emotions even though I try, but I have gotten pretty good at hiding them by putting on a poker face and smiling, even if it hurts to do so.   This works most of the time, but sometimes with people who know me pretty well it catch me.  They ask me if I’m doing okay and they are pretty good at taking care of me in those moments, which unfortunately are a lot more common after Iraq than before it but occasionally happen.

However on the whole I remain a pretty upbeat person.  I think my most common greeting with people that I work with or see relatively often is “Hey, what’s up, what’s new, what’s happening in the world?” Most of the time I’m a pretty laid back kind of person. I think that this is due a blend of genetics from a recessive gene in my family as well as having grown up on the West Coast and spending a lot of my adult life somewhere in the former Confederate States of America.   The genetic factor has to be a recessive gene as a lot of folks in my family can get spun up and pretty serious pretty fast.

Since being upbeat unless I am downcast is the baseline for me, even with my PTSD I find a lot of humor in life and still manage to have fun.  I love the folks that I work with in my ICUs and being in those places with those colleagues does me an incredible amount of good.

One thing that I have noticed is that it is important for me to smile; in fact I generally like smiling except when I don’t.   I admit that there are some times and some people that I am like the scene in the movie Patton where Patton is forced to make conversation with a Soviet General after the war.  In those kinds of times the smile is definitely faked and thankfully most people don’t realize it.

However what I find is that many people respond positively to a genuine and caring smile and greeting.  Let’s face it times are not the best, all the economic problems and political conflict coupled with ongoing wars and wondering what is going to happen stress a lot of people out.  A lot of this is the news media’s fault as they heap one negative story after another on their viewers, particularly those who are addicted to 24 hour non-stop cable news and talk radio.  As a result it is amazing to see the number of people out in town who don’t smile.  Since I work in a pretty good sized teaching medical center I see people going through a lot of health and life crisis, but even here I don’t quite see the level of disgruntledness that I see out in town.  Frankly I’d like to see a lot more gruntled than disgruntled people.

In the past year that I have been here I have endeavored to be as positive and cheerful as possible and with some exceptions I have managed pretty well.  In fact I have made it my crusade to honestly try to greet everyone that I contact with a kind word or smile and often a God bless you or simply “blessings on your head.” What I love to see is someone who has been obviously beaten down; do a double take when they realize that someone; that being me, is taking the time to say something nice to them.  I love the sheepish smiles, the surprised thank you and God bless you responses that I get in return.

No place is this more important than church or chapel service when I or for that matter any Priest or minister serves God’s people.  Grumpy pastors, who are too bothered to care, perform their duties in a perfunctory manner or worse are rude and disrespectful to the people that God entrusts to their care  do damage.  It’s like Archbishop Blackie said, the encounters that we have are occasions to share the grace and love of God, to be with them, care for them and are in a very real sense both evangelical and sacramental occasions.  When I was in Jacksonville Florida as a Navy Chaplain I would occasionally serve at the altar of our cathedral church.  People would almost always comment on how joyful I looked while celebrating Eucharist and serving communion.  How can I not be when I am entrusted with such a great gift for God’s people?

Judy and my college room-mate Kendra is in town this week.  We had kind of a three’s company situation.  I had my men’s bedroom which was a total college guy mess and Judy and Kendra shared the other bedroom.  At the time Kendra was an Atheist being bombarded by many of our well meaning but hyper aggressive Christian friends.  We had a blast.  Kendra is like super duper deaf, lost all of her hearing at the age of four after she had learned to speak and read. She’s incredibly intelligent and as a 15 year old scored in the upper one percentile of the SAT where I not to be too flashy scored somewhere around the upper thirty-fifth percentile due to my abysmal math score. It was due to Kendra that I learned sign language.  All of Judy’s friends were deaf at Cal State Northridge and I needed it, but Kendra and her sense of humor helped make me do it.  When I first met her Judy had to run out and when Judy came back to her dorm room, this was before the three’s company” set up she found Kendra and I reading the “Official Sick Joke Book” and since I couldn’t sign just yet pointing to the jokes and laughing.  Anyway, Kendra eventually came to faith and joined the Episcopal Church in Pasadena just a few years back.  In her spiritual biography she mentions us not trying to convert her, even going to church with us without feeling pressure. She knew that we cared for her and our continued friendship was a part of how she came to faith.  I thought that was so cool.  My sign language is in the crapper now but I am going to do my best to have fun.  I picked up a copy of “Mommy Dearest” so we could watch it and relive great memories of chasing each other around the apartment with wire coat hangers saying “no more wire hangers.” Trust me you have to see the movie to get this one.

Of course I try to ensure that I don’t appear to be a total idiot when I do this, with some mindless smile or joke that is inappropriate to the occasion.  Let’s look at a unlikely scenario: With me in the room the Doctor says to the patient “Sir, I have good and bad news.”   The patient says “What’s the good news?” The doctor replies “the good news is pretty soon you will feel no pain.”  The patient says “Doctor that’s wonderful news, you know I’ve been in so much pain for so long.  So what’s the bad news?” The doctor replies “Son you’re going to die.” Then I as the chaplain with a mindless big grin on my face chime in, “Let’s focus on the positive now…have you seen The Bucket list? Gotta love Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman huh? They are such good actors.  Hey, I have an idea, you want to pray?”  As the nurses and doctors struggle to pull the man’s hands from around my throat I gasp out “so do you want me to come back later?”  That of course is extremely unlikely in my case; in fact I usually am the glass half-full kind of guy when it comes to dealing with sick people since I am neither a physician nor God.

I have a sense of gallows humor but am very careful how and when to use it and thankfully I am able to not smile like an idiot when bad news gets delivered.   It’s a gift.  Let’s face it there is that stuff about those Chinese kids Yin and Yang, everything has to be in balance.

All this being said there are times where the foot is in the other shoe. These are the times that the person who is afflicted with a life threatening condition or knows that they are dying is the one who smiles and comforts others, even throwing in a joke or poking fun at someone in the room.  Having experienced this even very recently I have to say that these kinds of folks do more for me than I think that I can ever do for them.   Often there is a time of interaction where the person allows me into their world, to share a story, a laugh and a blessing.  For a Priest it doesn’t get any better than that.  These are holy times where God shows up and tonight I have the honor of spending time with such a man and his family.  I am reminded at these times how precious the time is and just how in the midst of pain, suffering and even death, that the God who says “I will never leave you or forsake you” is truly with us as we walk through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

I’ll be smiling tonight in every ward that I visit and hopefully with every staff member, patient and family member that I encounter, knowing that in their lives, that smile might be the only good thing that happens to them all day, or maybe even all week.

Make sure that you smile and give a kind word to someone soon.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under healthcare, Pastoral Care, philosophy