I've chosen just five topics that are bugging me. I'll start with the coverage of Charlie Sheen.
- Coverage of Charlie Sheen Shows We Are LOSING. The coverage of Sheen's behavior represents a new "low" of sorts because the television networks, particularly cable and gossip shows, are so openly exploiting Sheen's personal problems to increase their ratings. The context for this is not the least bit subtle. The television industry doesn't give a damn about Sheen's mental health or substance abuse problems. As long as he's outrageous, they keep the limelight on him. What does this say about our society? People are gobbling up reports on Sheen. What's next? Do you think television will give us prime-time coverage of a man setting himself on fire? It seems the door has been kicked further open for almost anything. I recall when the networks, back in 1994, broke to live coverage of O.J. Simpson's Bronco chase away from the Los Angeles police. Helicopters helped bring the country live shots of Simpson's Bronco pulling into his driveway as reporters openly wondered if he'd kill himself then and there. I remember sensing that that had begun a new "era" - a new "low." We've seen many other "lows" since, but, this Charlie Sheen saga is now the newest episode on the list, and, I find it an embarrassing metaphor for the "entertainment-first" culture we live in. I was disgusted to see an article in the March 21st Newsweek by Bret Easton Ellis that actually heaped praise on the unique contributions of Sheen. The headline reads: "Charlie Sheen is Winning - With his tweets, his manic interviews, his insurgent campaign against the entertainment world, the star is giving America exactly what it wants out of a modern celebirty" The author gives his views on why Sheen's one-man "protest" has struck a chord, but he barely mentions the actor's problems that are driving all his behavior. So, this Newsweek article - like Sheen - puts entertainment ahead of all. Forget the truth. Forget context. Forget discretion. We live in a sick society.
- It seems fitting, in a negative way, that Newt Gingrich is taking preliminary steps toward running for President in 2012. Why? Because Gingrich knows that in today's crazy media climate, he's much more likely to get away with failing to explain his personal mistakes in the past AND that he can speak in extreme, reckless terms - the way he likes to. Think about it. In today's media landscape, people say outrageous things one day, and they're forgotten a few days later. So, for example, even though Sarah Palin, as a vice presidential candidate, couldn't discuss the most basic issues in 2008, the media has been hyping her every move since because of her entertainment value. Glenn Beck says wacky things on FOX television, but, he keeps his job. Rush Limbaugh spouts wild, negative comments and yet, he retains, mysteriously, enough political "clout" that politicians, particularly Republicans, often remain afraid to challenge him publicly. So, it seems to "follow" that Gingrich has already pulled off an amazing, objectionable move: He blamed his infidelities (that led to his two divorces) on his extraordinary patriotism. Yeah, he actually said words to this effect - in case you missed it. David Brody of the Christian Broadcast Network recently asked him about his past behavior. Newt, in his reply, said: "...There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate...I found that I felt compelled to seek God's forgiveness. Not God's understanding, but God's forgiveness. I do believe in a forgiving God. And I think most people, deep down in their hearts hope there's a forgiving God...." Gingrich reportedly chose to discuss his divorce of his first wife while she was sick with cancer recovering from surgery in the hospital. Then, his second wife reportedly found out about his later infidelity right after she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
- The state of Texas is giving serious consideration to a proposed new law that would allow college students and professors to carry handguns on campus. Just a few months after the horrific shooting episode in Arizona when US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others were shot by an unstable man, it is hard for me to fathom why legislators in Texas or any other state would choose to allow more handguns to be in circulation rather than less. It would only increase the chances for someone to be wounded or killed by a gun. Texas allows concealed firearms in most public places, but not in college buildings. Eight other states are considering bills that would allow concealed firearms to be carried on college campuses. Utah is currently the only state in the US that in allows concealed guns on public college campuses. In more than 20 other states, similar proposed bills have been defeated in the past, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. If anything, the Arizona tragedy demonstrated the tremendous need for stricter gun control across the country. After all, the shooter used a gun with a high-capacity magazine that would have been prohibited if the assault weapons ban law had not expired in 2004. It defies common sense that politicians are so fearful of the gun lobby that they do not take action to prevent the needless deaths of so many people due to gun violence.
- Politicians - including US congressmen and a potential presidential candidate - continue to stir discussion about whether President Obama was truly born in the US. This false claim should have never been treated as a legitimate topic for media coverage unless some facts had emerged that raised actual doubt or questions about Obama's citizenship. That has never happened. Yet news organizations keep allowing individuals to raise this ludicrous topic without vigorously questioning and objecting to it. Although not one shred of new evidence has surfaced that indicates anything contradictory about Obama's citizenship, we keep hearing about the "birthers." News organizations keep reporting on lies related to Obama's birth. The latest example: 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently made the glaring mistake of saying Obama had grown up in Kenya. My view is that anyone who makes his false claim about Obama ought to be aggressively questioned, scrutinized, criticized and held accountable. Obama is two years into his presidency. That this subject is even on anyone's radar is inexcusable and suggests either racism, stupidity or motivation stemming only from ill will.
- The coverage of President Obama often suggests that public and/or media expectations of what a US president can do are so far off the charts that it reveals troubling trends. Barack Obama inherited a boatload of troubles when he took office and it seems he's been wrestling with crises during much of his tenure. I'm used to noticing that people expect Presidents to do far more than they can, but, in Obama's case, I feel the expectations have been laughably extreme. He came into office inheriting the worst economic crisis since the Depression. Economists from all sides recommended passage of a stimulus package. Later, Republicans ripped Obama because, they claimed, the stimulus was wasteful and didn't create enough growth. The auto industry failed. Obama's administration stepped in. Banks failed. Obama intervened to bail them out. Later, these actions were part of the Republicans' overall criticism of Obama being a "socialist" proponent of big government. Then, there the BP oil spill and people complained Obama should've done more. (Did they want him to wear scuba gear and clean up the oil himself?) With the latest unrest in countries in or near the Middle East, critics said first that Obama was saying too much about Egypt. Then, they said he wasn't doing enough. Just recently, some critics have suggested that Obama should be doing more to intervene to help the rebels in Libya. Of course, for the US to create a "no-fly-zone" would have required bombing sites in Libya first and such action would stir up incredible hostility from other countries - including Iran, which already urged the US to refrain. Sometimes I wonder how Obama keeps his sanity in the White House. I do notice that he seems to receive far more criticism and scrutiny than George W. Bush received at times. I vividly recall the Bush Administration's long propaganda campaign to create public acceptance for the invasion of Iraq. I recall the media "going along" with much of the campaign and failing to raise nearly enough questions. Can you imagine if Obama tried to launch an invasion of a country like Iraq without justification - and, that thousands of people then died as a result? Unfortunately, it's clear that Obama is held to a different standard due to his race. It's time for people to be more realistic and fair in those expectations.