So, the Vatican has weighed in on the growing scandal with media mogul Rupert Murdock’s News of the World cell phone hacking scandal. The Holy See’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, opines that its high time the news media to adopt what His Holiness has termed “info-ethics.”
I heartily agree, as a veteran journalist who has watched my profession’s once-unassailable dedication to balance and fairness shredded over the years.
But let’s also be brutally honest: We are in a time when what is covered, and how it is covered is increasingly determined not by news value but the number of “hits” or “page views” a story might get on the Web.
Thoughtful, in-depth, responsible journalism just doesn’t pump up the “SEO” (Search Engine Optimization) numbers like stories that appeal to the lowest moral/ethical denominator among readers — sex, scandal, celebrities in rehab and the latest misbehavings of Reality TV stars.
I used to be convinced that real journalists could exercise something called “news judgment,” and exercise professional detachment in telling all sides of a story. The best reporters and editors had those ethics, and integrity, albeit seasoned by cynicism that could be at times extreme.
As for the kind of appeal to the salacious that now is so mainstream in the media, that was reserved for those laughable, more-fiction-than-fact tabloids at the supermarket checkout counters.
Not any more. So, yes, journalism needs to adopt a set of ethics. Journalism needs to be responsible. Journalism needs to abide by the law — not hack into cell phones of murder victims, illegally obtain medical records or bribe public officials for juicy bits of “news.”
But journalism won’t be doing that, at least to any industry-wide extent, as long as there is a reading public hungry for their next voyeuristic news high.
True journalistic ethics reform ultimately rides on the tide of some recommitment to what’s right by the consumers — a public that, if the very salacious headlines they seem to hunger for so are representative, has lost its moral compass.
That condition, of course, is hardly new. Consider this advicefromf St. Paul, some 2,000 years ago. Isn’t the same regeneration he called for needed desperately today?
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
Until humankind embraces such an attitude toward its “news,” I suspect we will continued to be trapped in an information landscape where the Golden Rule is ignored in favor of other, less gracious aphorisms: “Sex sells.” “If it bleeds, it leads.” And, as the News of the World scandal underscores, “The ends justify the means.”
In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria, this hard-to-censor, impossible to stop digital electronic grapevine has been critical to liberty-seeking rebels as a news source and a means to organize rallies.
It also has proven a catalyst to civil war and bloodshed, of course, as the dictatorial governments in those Muslim countries have tried to snuff protests.
But perhaps one of this trouble world’s longest-running, bitterest conflicts, the one between Arabs and Israelis, may have made a start toward peace — albeit a tentative one — using the same medium. Enter the YaLa-Young Leaders Facebook Page.
When I visited the site this weekend, it had some 2,700 “likes” and more than 22,000 active users, split roughly equally between its Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab “friends.” It is an open exchange, not only for the desire for peace between Israel and its Palestinian and Arab neighbors . . . but music (Shakira is big), soccer, the arts and even horseback riding in the ancient ruins of Petra.
In a land where too often exchanges between Jews and Muslims (at least what the rest of the world sees on television news) involve rocks, gunfire and bombs, it seems some of the antagonists may have found common ground . . . in cyberspace. And, this effort has the endorsement of government leaders on both sides of the Jerusalem divide.
Israel President Shimon Peres, in part, posted this:
“The young region can and should determine its destiny. The Arab Spring can become a Middle-East spring if the young will also lead the way to peaceful coexistence. Our region is full of potential in physical and human resources and if we live in peace, freedom and equality, can we turn this potential into a prosperous reality.”
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas offered this:
“. . .the winds of change cannot be stopped when people, especially young women and men are pushing away all boundaries that block their free thinking, their sense of dignity and their mere existence as equal human beings living in their own societies. We now know that we can hand you the torch of the great responsibility of achieving a real and endurable peace in our region. Our message to you is to focus on the real sense of dignity, education, tolerance and acceptance of the other as equals.”
Both eloquent, to be sure. But it is within the seemingly mundane conversations on-site, from everyday Israeli and Arab youths, that you dare to hope that peace, finally, in the Middle East is not a forlorn hope.
There’s 17-year-old Dalal Awwad, who writes: “I have a dream that one day I will be able to go to school without being afraid of the soldiers on the checkpoint… or even, without having the checkpoint and the soldiers. I have a dream that I would once wake up on the sound of humming birds rather than bullets; and that when I open my eyes, I’d see Jerusalem from my window, not a wall that separates me from my city. I want to have a passport that indicates that I’m a human… that I have dignity, and I search for happiness. A human who has the freedom to move from one place to the other without being treated as a terrorist. I have a dream that I would one day stand at the shore next to the beach… that I would see the sun set like every other child does. I have a dream that I wouldn’t wake up with the fear of dying, or the fear of loosing (sic) my beloved ones for a non-ending fight. “
Nadine Firas Yaghi adds: “. . . why let myself be ruled by the corruption of the current governments? why let them influence my understanding of forgiveness, tolerance and hope! these little things that Jerusalem provides me strengthens my belief that someday i would walk the same streets and look at the same sights but with the difference that its inhabitants would have recovered from all the war memories and its fatal diseases.”
Nathan Heber expresses the hopes of many in his post: “This is the best thing I’ve seen on Facebook. For the first time in years I think there might be a chance for peace and it starts here. Keep it going. Good luck.”
To that I add, Amen, and Amin.
Yes, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem . . .” And it may not hurt to “like” Facebook pages that struggle to make that reality, too.
Like many preachers kids, I came out of a sheltered, fundamentalist Christian (and Pentecostal at that) upbringing unprepared, spiritually and intellectually, for the maelstrom of questioning that awaited me on campus.
So, it may sound strange when I say that I owe debts of gratitude to atheists, agnostics and one post-modern mystic. That requires some elaboration, doesn’t it? Well, I’ll try.
Naturally, I ran into the straightforward Darwinian scientists who taught me the required biology and chemistry courses, atheists all. An unexpected counterbalance, however, came with an agnostic, painfully exact and honest anthropologist who tore holes in the orthodoxy of evolutionary hypotheses, even while admitting he had no substitutes to explain human origins.
Eventually, I moved on to my initial major, Psychology, and immediately ran into Sigmund Freud. Even then, Freud’s theories were under withering attack as the profession moved more toward B.F. Skinner’s behaviorism and the perceived triumph of nurture over nature.
But God, indeed faith in any form, found no welcome in either of those camps.
Then, I discovered Carl Jung.
It was more than learning Jung also was a “PK,” the son of a Lutheran minister in a family studded with clergymen. It was his brilliant intellect, his courage (to me, at least) in acknowledging that faith in a Higher Power was integral to makeup human beings — and that it was more than a projection of fear, need or imagination; that it had substance.
In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Yung concluded with this:
“Yet there is so much that fills me: plants, animals, clouds, day and night, and the eternal in man. The more uncertain I have felt about myself, the more there has grown up in me a feeling of kinship with all things. In fact it seems to me as if that alienation which so long separated me from the world has become transferred into my own inner world, and has revealed to me an unexpected unfamiliarity with myself.”
Now, Jung was not what you’d call a Christian, or at least one that would fit most believers’ definition. He was interested, however, in the metaphysics of spiritual experience – sometimes to wacky extremes — through all faith systems, eventually developing the concept of a “collective unconscious” that, he maintained, gave birth to such experiences.
Of course, I didn’t buy all of what Jung hypothesized, any more than I accepted Freud’s obsession with sex as being at the core of all neuroses. And, my anthropology professor had instilled skepticism of scientist “truths” that made me question any dogma, secular as well as social and religious.
For me, Jung’s observations, even his flights of imaginative explanation, provided no answers, per se. However, they did confirm what I was feeling within myself — that resilient faith that survived, like a lump of beaten metal in a furnace.
And, I went from there, re-evaluating all I had been taught about God and existence and the human soul. Some end that journey in disbelief. My faith grew, and continues to grow.
I embraced God and his son, Jesus, with newfound awe — even as I found the religion of my childhood, and indeed faith “systems” in general, to be well-intentioned and yet ultimately anemic attempts to define and confine the Divine within a manmade framework.
Finite minds trying to explain the Infinite. Obsessive human brains unable to accept basic precepts and truths without building fortresses of rules and rituals around them.
I’ll let Jung have the last word (this from his book, The Undiscovered Self):
“The seat of faith, however, is not consciousness but spontaneous religious experience, which brings the individual’s faith into immediate relation with God. Here we must ask: Have I any religious experience and immediate relation to God, and hence that certainty which will keep me, as an individual, from dissolving in the crowd?”
First, there was “Desperate Housewives,” ABC’s popular chronicle of the bizarre, quirky and occasionally — OK, frequently — morally hazy if not bankrupt moral and ethical struggles of the women of the fictional Wisteria Lane.
But whether you love it, hate it, or are one of those watch-and-wince periodic viewers, you know it’s a comedy-drama.
Then came the inevitable “reality TV” spinoff, “The Real Housewives” on Bravo — actually a growing family of shows spreading the ill-kept entertainment mindscape of the American psyche, i.e. “The Real Housewives of Orange County . . . New York City, Atlanta, New Jersey, Beverly Hills, Miami.
You get the idea.
Bravo has hyped the series as “real-life ‘desperate’ housewives” and “compelling day-to-day drama.” Well, OK, if the unraveling of human frailties, displays of envy, hubris, failed marriages, fashion-fueled fights and quests ad nauseam for social status are compelling to you, God bless.
But wait, maybe there is some room for God’s blessing in this, however much a stretch that may seem . . . at first.
Enter Internet-based Detroit evangelist Ty Adams and her new, two-part DVD production, “The Real Housewives of the Bible.”
The cast Adams draws from the scriptures is hardly dull. The Bible is replete with stories about courageous women suffering through loss, betrayal, tragedy, loneliness, infertility and unrequited love. Between Genesis and Revelation, after all, there are the evil Jezebels and Delilahs and the persevering, faithful Ruths and Sarahs alike.
Adams seeks to find modern-day equivalents of those women, both villains and heroes on the real-world battlefield of faith.
Opportunistic evangelism? Sure. But that’s hardly a new trend. Consider one faith’s most enduring appropriations: “Amazing Grace,” perhaps the best-known hymn in the world. The tune that today carries the inspiring words originally is thought to have been a Celtic ballad that became known as “New Britain.”
In the ’70s, Simon and Garfunkel’s hit “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” was Christianized by substituting “Christ” for “I” . . . “Like a bridge over troubled water, Christ will ease your mind . . .”
And more recently, pretty much any popular music hit has ended up with a new set of “Christian” lyrics, sometimes more tongue-in-cheek than inspiring, at least to me.
Effective evangelism? What do you think?