FLINT - If you followed the news last week, you'd have thought the world was coming to an end because aflea-bitten preacher from a microscopic,ironically named church (the Dove Outreach Center) in Florida threatened to burn the Koran.
And yet here we are nearly a week later and, despite the odds, no books have been burned and the world is still turning on its angry axis. That's a wrap. On to the next story.
I smell a lesson here -that being that perhaps our hyperventilating times have more todo with the messenger than we realize.
We're used to media hype, of course. But some weird corner was turned with this story. Call it hyper-hype.
Think about it. Was there any real reason forthe Rev. Terry Jones, the mutton-chopped would-be book burner, to become such a big deal?
Not really. Hate and intolerance arenot exactly in short supply in America these days.I see it daily on the blogs, on bumper stickers, foaming from the mouths of people interviewed on TV. It's been that way since 9/11.
So Rev. Jones should have been laughed off as a kook, even by local media in Florida.And in the more responsible media past, he probably would have been.
But these days, media aredesperate. Audiences are fractured, so how do you attract attention?
It's pretty clear they turned it up a notch here, however. In Jones, the networks and CNN sawa chance to rise above the din and score a few ratings points, and they took it. There was nothing special aboutJones, other than his particular method of bigotry happened to be timed for the anniversary of 9/11, and if there's one thing no media outlet can resist it's an anniversary story.
But sinceanniversary stories tend to be duller than dirt,TV, in particular, puff, puff, puffed until the embers of hate smoldering in Jones had become a flame felt around the world.
It became dark comedy after awhile. You had the Pope, the president and the United Nations all, essentially, pleading with a guy with a few dozen parishioners. You could almost hear TV execs laughing at us: Bwahaha, got 'em. And now, of course, a few days later, those same TV networks are doing stories about how, hey, it all turned out to be much ado about nothing. Conveniently, they ignore their role in it.
A few years ago, there was a movie called "Wag the Dog," about a spin doctor who created a fake war to distract people from a sex scandal involving his client, the president.
There's an element of that here. News used to cover events as they happened. Nowthey're discovering that, when the conditions are right, they can cover a minor story until it literally becomes an event.
The tail is indeed wagging the dog. And you know who the dog is, right?
It's us. And we keep lapping up this nonsense instead of demanding better.
How's that make you feel? I know how it makes me feel.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller.