The other day at work, one of my co-workers asked: “Has September 11th become just another day, or is it still a sad day of remembrance?” Most who were within earshot of her question, answered “Just another day.” The old adage that life goes on after a tragedy is certainly one that is difficult to argue with, but this year’s anniversary of the terrorist attacks in Washington D.C., New York, and the thwarted attack that resulted in a plane crashing in Pennsylvania, is one that has a tremendous amount of hate attached to it. It’s easy to blame the media for focusing on the bigots, crazies, and opportunists who will say and do anything to get attention and fan the flames of hatred, but in the last few months, the media are squarely to blame. Sure the media (writ large) is not a monolithic thing; indeed, it’s become fractured and gutted to the point where responsible media outlets are passé, while irresponsible media outlets drive the news cycle. 24 cable news/opinion , AM radiotalkers, blogs, and Facebook have made deep inroads as a replacement for newspapers, news magazines, the nightly news, and radio news stations. The role of an editor, reporter, and researcher into news stories have shrunk to the point where few have noticed that propagandists are running the information show. As an ex-journalist once told me (she’s an ex-journalist because the paper she worked for had massive lay offs): “This is a good time to be a corrupt politician.” To which I added, “I think this is a good time for corruption period.” But it’s more than corruption that’s at play here. Because of the Great Recession that people are most susceptible to fear, and fear is a powerful thing when used to manipulate emotions.
Just look at the polling data about Muslims — and American’s views of the religion and the people who practice it. Where does such a negative opinion suddenly escalate? Well, it doesn’t take a PhD in Political Science to know that hatred and bigotry are fueled by lack of understanding. All you need are catchy slogans that reinforce the hate like “Ground Zero Mosque,” “Burn the Quran Day,” “Islam is the Religion of the Devil,” a willing media that repeats these slogans and the idiots who are getting face time because they say it, and you have an effective (and mostly free) ad campaign (masked as “news”) that’s directed against a particular group – or in this case, an entire religion. And like any ad campaign, to make it effective, you have to have two ingredients: time and frequency. The ad’s message has to run for a long duration of time, but that message has to be repeated with enough frequency to make an impression on people and get them to act. In the business I work in (radio) the conventional wisdom is that it takes a minimum of six weeks for a message to penetrate into the collective mind of your audience – and that’s with the right amount of frequency (usually 30 commercials a week). When there are news/opinion makers that are on 24 hours a day, the number of impressions they can make on a particular story is high because all they have to do is fill chunks of air time with the crazies who push a particular opinion about a particular target of hate. Now, in the realm of ratings, cable news doesn’t really have that big of an audience. But with Facebook, blogs, You Tube, and other forms of social and viral media, it’s easy to start a meme that will reinforce the message.
So where am I going with this? Well, to use social media in a more constructive sense, I point to something my friend John retweeted today. It comes from someone he follows (Julie Clawson), and she posted: “9 years later I pray that we can stop blaming the hatred and terrorism of a few on an entire religion.”
I’m not a religious person, but to that I say: “Amen, sister.”