Friday, June 12, 2009

Connecting the Dots

It has been an interesting week for news. We had the Tiller murder in Kansas, the shooting at the Holocaust Museum and the dust-up between David Letterman and Sarah Palin. What do these things have in common? I would suggest quite a bit. Sarah Palin has responded to Letterman's humor about her and her family with great indignation. It is difficult to know how much is anger and how much is calculation on her part. Declaring her kids offbase with the media seems a bit too little, too late as she has spent the last year parading them in front of the public. But now, she seems to have settled on the argument that Letterman's comments demean young women and lead to the coarsening of our society and that it gives comfort to those who would prey on young women.

While I think taking one questionable joke and using that to blame the plague of abuse and misuse of young women may be a stretch she has one valid point--words matter. And when enough words are spoken over the airwaves it can either give permission to those who may have strange ideas to act on those ideas or, at best, it sets a tone of disrespect or worse. Which brings me to the other two incidents.

In both cases talk radio and cable TV commentators have to shoulder some of the blame for creating an atmosphere of intolerance. When Ann Coulter suggests all Jews should be "perfected" by becoming Christian it creates a diminishing of respect for Jewish people and when Rush Limbaugh suggests that Barack Obama doesn't have a birth cirtificate (giving credence to the right wing conspiracy theorists who think he isn't really American) it can lead a nut case who agrees with this theory on the president and who hates Jews to feel it is just fine to pick up a rifle and shot up a memorial to those who died in the holocaust against the Jews. And when Bill O'Reillly talks for years about "Tiller, the baby killer" it creates an atmosphere where the unhinged can feel it is moral on their part to kill the "Killer." Of course Coulter, Limbaugh and O'Reilly did not tell these nut jobs to get their guns and go on a shooting spree any more than Letterman making a joke about Palin's daughter tells a pedophile it is OK to abuse children. But when hate speech is used too easily or when jokes are made that dimish others in a crass way, then speech can lead to actions.

I tend not to agree with Sarah Palin on a lot of things and don't find her particularly insightful on very much, but she is on to something here. Words uttered on television,(or the radio or on the internet)have meaning and resonence far beyond the speakers' intention. Perhaps it is time for everyone to start dialing back their loose speech. Loss lips can not only sink ships, they can lead to sinking our culture.

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