Fifteen minutes of fame is not serving our country very well

It’s been 43 years since Andy Warhol famously said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

It was 1968, there were no cable news networks, the word “Internet” wasn’t in the lexicon, nor was “blog” or “blogger.” Maybe Warhol thought the world would be a better place when everyone had a better shot at fame. I don’t know.

But given the vitriol, and now violence, that has accompanied the growing ease with which seemingly anyone can grab the attention of millions of people, I can’t help but think the primitive means of communication of 1968 might have better served us than does the instantaneous and pervasive means of message delivery that so controls the world we live in today.

Who knows what was going on in the twisted head of Jared Loughner last week when he opened fire on a crowd in Tucson, killing six and wounding 12, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords? The fact of the matter is none of us know whether Sarah Palin’s use of crosshairs over Ms. Giffords photo caused Loughner to go berserk. Nor does anyone know whether it had anything to do with it at all.

All we know is, in today’s political and technological climate it’s easier than ever — too easy, some might say — to get such images to millions and millions of people.

To all of those on both sides of the political spectrum who have long argued the coarseness of the popular culture can do nothing but subliminally implant ideas for bad behavior in the minds of those who listen to it or watch it, we have to ask: Can’t the same argument be made for the beyond-the-bounds political statements that are the norm in today’s political discourse?

Yes, Ms. Palin, there is a “foundational freedom” that allows you to put crosshairs over a photo of Gabrielle Giffords. It’s right there in the First Amendment to the Constitution. It allows you to do that, just as it allows your detractors to write about you in a manner you find unbecoming, and about which you complain, with much volume and frequency.

Some of us who have toiled in this business for a few years know that just because the First Amendment says we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it. To properly exercise our First Amendment rights, we must accept some First Amendment responsibilities. We must know the lines that can’t be crossed. Not that we can’t cross them, but good taste, basic fairness and common sense dictate we shouldn’t.

Those lines have become more and more blurry since the advent of the 24-hour news channel. I’ve often thought there simply are not many days in which there is 24 hours worth of news. Sept. 11, 2001 doesn’t come along very often. So the new czars of what we see and hear are stuck with filling all of that dead air with something.

What we get are armies of “experts” who comment on the day’s events. It’s a very simple drill, really. Pick an issue, any issue, get one person to argue it’s black and the other to yell back it’s white. Kill some air time, pick another issue and do it again. The problem is, none of that does anything to advance a story line. It also leads to people mixing up news and opinion. They are not one and the same.

Then it filters down. Thanks to the Internet, anyone can be a publisher and sometimes it appears just about everyone wants to give it a try.

It’s easier than ever to get your 15 minutes of fame. So we have bloggers who are really nothing more than self-appointed “experts” adding nothing but more racket to the background noise that is already too loud. One local left-wing blogger preaches to us one day on civility while on another day he feels no qualms whatsoever about calling a politician not to his liking a word not fit for publication in a family newspaper.

One deranged person is responsible for his terrible act in Arizona. We’ll never know for sure why he did it, but we do know that the culture in which he lives is one of our creation. It’s the one in which everyone gets 15 minutes.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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