There is too much division in our country: not just diversity of opinions, but division between our people! It’s almost like America is at war—with itself! We’re engaged in a Civil War, between philosophies and political parties, Democrats vs. Republicans. But, America has always espoused strong dissention among its rank and file! Freedom to express ourselves– especially opposing views— is what makes our nation a really great place in which to live, grow and prosper! Suddenly, within a few short months or years, it feels as if we’re truly at war among ourselves: pitching slurs, insults and fighting words. Why? Why has America suddenly become a place of antagonism with decorum of disrespect? Is it too late for Americans to live and govern together—based upon principles of mutual respect?
We’ve all heard it: ‘red state,’ ‘blue state.’ During the elections, while chatting with friends, it occurred to several of us that, we’re all Americans: so how can we be defined by blue or red? Yes, the primary color of Democrats is blue; Republicans is red. But the point is, or should be, “aren’t we all Americans?” And we are! This red and blue stuff is a way to divide us, not unite us. And after the acrimony of the 2012 national elections, America can use some unity.
One example of recent acrimony in the media, was a popular late-night TV host calling one of our nation’s former governors, a felon, for supposedly not paying federal income tax.
Not only is this claim unsubstantiated, but the TV’s host’s fighting words may have incited media can be interpreted as unethical, at the least– and potentially dangerous, at the most. And all this, for a late-night joke. Price-Waterhouse (the CPA firm that processed the tax returns,) might have a stronger opinion. And this TV host is not the only one: the media insults and slurs of late are too many to count. What a poor example for our youth. And the world.
Another thing that stood out was the way some journalists derided the candidates and commentators. Isn’t journalism supposed to be impartial? According to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics…. “Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.” Hence, there’s no room for bias.
Also, let’s look at the clause that says, “Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.” I heard numerous jeers from journalists during the election that made me cringe: respect? Calling others derogatory names is not respect. It is disrespect. And no ethical journalist should be stooping to that low. Those who do, undermine journalism– and it’s future.
America is founded upon principles: written laws, freedoms, including free-speech– but fighting words are not free speech.
Although the US Supreme Court has difficulty defining, fighting words, exactly– which lie outside the Constitutionality protection of free speech– fighting words are defined as intended to insult a particular individual and ‘reasonably incite the average person to retaliate.’ But that’s what insults are: designed to incite retaliation. When words are used to insult a particular individual to the point that the average person would (or could or should,) retaliate with more fighting words– or worse, violence—than, in my opinion, fighting words forfeit the Constitutional protection of freedom of speech. Let’s look at this another way.
If there’s a child in your kid’s elementary school class who insults your kid constantly, and your kid comes home crying– the average parent would respond. Either you call the school, or you call the other kid’s parents or you do both. Some parents would send their kid to karate class, so he or she could knock the other kid’s block off: we’ve all read the stories. The initial insult was the catalyst for the response. Typically, human beings don’t bully or insult others because they DON’T want to incite a response. The goal is to incite a response big time, just to have it out with the other guy.
It’s particularly distressful when our national media use fighting words to insult another journalist or reporter or candidate– and, maybe because humans are so voyeuristic, we tend to enjoy ‘listening in,’ to the dirt. But we shouldn’t. We wouldn’t just stand around doing nothing while listening to a 3rd grader insult a classmate, would we? Why do we do that with adults? Besides, journalists are supposed to be unbiased: if they’re spinning the news with their own opinions, they’ve ceased to report the news and have now made the news. They ‘make’ the news by spinning it to one side of the philosophical argument or the other. And if journalists are true to their professional ethics, they will…. “never distort the content of news, photos or video….” And they will… “examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.”
The SPJ Code of Ethics also include discourage spinning the news or a particular view of the news: “Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.” And although this code is not legally enforceable, it is encouraged as “a guide for ethical behavior…. As a resource for ethical decision-making.” It goes on– “Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.” Boy, do we ever need this in the current heyday of scandals du jour!
The point is that we, as Americans, are part of this great experiment in Democracy… and it is the press—the media– who help keep us free with unbiased news reporting and comments– keeping it out in the “sunshine.” There is no place for insults or acrimony, pandering or bias– we’re all Americans. Let us agree, but not be disagreeable. The whole world watches America. Let all Americans behave like respectful adults! What a great gift for future generations of global leaders!
Go look at the evidence: be an informed American! Thank you
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©Suzy Right 2012