I was struggling with my first post for the New Year and then a shooter struck in Tucson, Arizona. I watched the story unfold in the news, saw friends commenting on Facebook and I began Tweeting. The last time a national event captured my attention in this manner was the Chilean mine disaster. It occurred to me that these two were opposites in terms of humanity: they displayed both the best and the worst in mankind.
As a PR professional, I am struck by how news gets reported now and how social media advances stories. Facts got confused and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ condition was mistakenly announced as deceased. It became apparent that people need to be more careful spreading information.
Then, the Internet provided journalists the ability to go back in time and analyze the political rhetoric in recent months. One reporter, Matt Bai from the NY Times, included reference to Sarah Palin’s map of the U.S. which put cross hairs on areas where key races were being contested. There was a quote from Michael Steele about sending Nancy Pelosi to “the firing line.” I don’t need to re-create the list of offenses here but the point was made that politicians from both sides have digressed in terms of language and characterization of their opponents. Both sides.
Another writer suggested that we’ve grown desensitized to the harshness of the accusations that politicians make about one another. The media tends to give more coverage to the most outrageous statements, which is why Palin continues to be in the headlines even though she is no longer in elected office. Now, Palin is offended that she is being pulled into this story. She welcomed the spotlight and media attention for the past year but it is a double-edged sword. Public figures need to be held to a higher standard because their sphere of influence is greater than the average citizen. This tragedy is sufficient warning of how some (albeit mentally ill) might react in unexpected ways. Politicians should be more mindful of their language choices going forward and the media needs to stop creating celebrities out of people who are good at sound bites.
So, as a mother, I am struck by a nine-year old being killed. My son is 4-1/2 years old. The thought of a young life being cut short is heartbreaking. Then I hear that a church is planning on staging a protest outside her funeral. These people claim to be Christians and that they somehow have a deeper understanding of God’s love (or hate, in this case, of Catholics). I am guessing they will claim the First Amendment as protection to go forward with their demonstration. How dare they?! I wrote earlier this year about Freedom of Speech and it simply does not apply. What about basic civility? A girl was murdered and her family is going to mourn. No one should be allowed to interfere with that. I would challenge ministers to step forward and question the validity of this church, its pastor, and their activities. I think most people would agree they are extremists so why do ministers not say something about it?
On the positive side, an intern has been heralded as a hero for staying by the side of Giffords after she was shot, providing first aid, and supporting the efforts of others tending to victims. Other people tackled the shooter and held him until police came. There is a peaceful protest planned by “angels” to create a wall of protection around the funeral. All these acts of kindness should be given more attention. Can we hear more about the goodness in our fellow man rather than see the face of the deranged killer one more time? I’d like to be able to watch news shows and not have to worry about their impact on my son.
Finally, maybe adults can all start taking responsibility for our own actions and language. As a society we need to set higher standards for ourselves. It is not an issue of religious affiliation, political parties, or race but simple humanity.