This Post Ain’t Worth Your Fifteen Minutes

It doesn’t take much to earn one’s fifteen minutes of fame in this world, does it?

Make a video with a talking dog? It goes viral.

Want to burn the Quran on the church lawn? It causes an international crisis.

Offer your virginity for sale on eBay? Makes a fortune.

The sad thing is that I know about all these things. They are items of trivia that have become part of the cultural landscape. They have become part of the lexicon of my life.

But none of these items warranted public attention. We don’t really need to know any of these facts. Our lives are not made better, richer, or more productive because we are aware of these things, are they?

Thirty years ago, none of these items would have been deemed “news.” These items would not have found their way into any of the televised network news, much less the AP wire.

The difference in this era is that all information is first-hand, immediate, potentially newsworthy. In the case of Terry Jones and the Quran-burning, the very awareness of the possibility of such an act created a crisis overseas. There are no journalistic middlemen to help sort out what is worthy of attention and what is not, what is important and what is not important, what is fact and what is fiction.

Thanks to Fox News, all so-called “journalists” are now supposedly tainted by a viewpoint or agenda. Thus, we are not supposed to trust any of them, even the ones who actually strive for accuracy, objectivity and truth.

But just because it’s impossible to actually achieve absolute objectivity doesn’t mean that journalists shouldn’t try.

What is worrisome is that anybody with a laptop can become world-famous for no good reason. All it takes is one lowly news organization to actually pay attention to such a crackpot, and unfortunately, the bigger the crackpot, the better chance that the news media will pick it up.

Take for instance, this week’s “news” that a right-wing preacher named John McTernan wrote in a blog post that Hurricane Sandy can be blamed on homosexuals, Muslims, and pro-Palestinian positions. I reluctantly provide you the link to his blog, because I hate to give any legitimacy to this guy … but you could find it easily enough yourself.

Here’s precisely what he said:

Hurricane Sandy is hitting 21 years to the day of the Perfect Storm of October 30, 1991. I write about this in my book as America Has Done to Israel. This was the day that President George Bush Sr. initiated the Madrid Peace Process to divide the land of Israel, including Jerusalem. America has been under God’s judgment since this event. Both of these hurricanes were cause by freakish weather patterns that came together to create

Twenty-one years breaks down to 7 x 3, which is a significant number with God. Three is perfection as the Godhead is three in one while seven is perfection.

It appears that God gave America 21 years to repent of interfering with His prophetic plan for Israel; however, it has gotten worse under all the presidents and especially Obama. Obama is 100 percent behind the Muslim Brotherhood which has vowed to destroy Israel and take Jerusalem. Both candidates are pro-homosexual and are behind the homosexual agenda. America is under political judgment and the church does not know it!

Nothing that McTernan says is worthy of close and sustained attention, not his distorted theology, his fascination with numerology, his failure to understand history, nor his utter disregard of truth. Instead, let’s ask the question, “How did this freakish blog post become an item of national conversation?” Why did significant news organizations, including the Huffington Post, MSN, Salon, and others, pass this story on?

McTernan is no public figure. According to his own bio, he holds a BS from Virginia Commonwealth University, and served 26 years as a Federal Treasury agent. He calls himself an ordained evangelist and chaplain, and he’s written a number of books, and has significant strong opinions about Israel.

I could stack up my own bio against his, at least from a theological or educational standpoint.

But I wouldn’t warrant the kind of press attention that he’s getting for his ridiculous statements about the hurricane, unless I came up with my own outlandish theory (which I could do, by the way).

In the democratization of media access and culture, we have lost all the gatekeepers, the men and women who filtered the inane and stupid news, the things that we don’t need to know simply because they’re not worth knowing.

And yet I’ve just written an entire blog post about something that you didn’t need to know. My apologies.

From now on, let’s stick to substance. Or in the spirit of the apostle Paul, let’s put our minds together in the pursuit of truth for the common good, for the welfare of all humans, and for the peace of our cities.

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2 comments

  1. Bret Wells

    I’m having mixed responses to your post.

    First, I’m wondering if my desire to respond will implicate me in the reading of unnecessary information…dang you Magruder and your ethical paradox of a blog post!

    Secondly, I’m tracking with you in the area of frustration over these sensationalized pieces. I read stuff like that and my first thought is, “No matter what I say, lots of people will lump me in with this idiot.” Then my second thought is, “How often do my own people lump whole groups in with a few idiots? Do I really have grounds to be upset?”

    And to further your point about the trivialization of what constitutes “news” – how much of our daily information intake comes from our Facebook “news feed”? ON THE OTHER HAND, fb “news” is how I learned about this blog post…wait, no, you said this isn’t news… never mind, we’re still in the same hand.

    Yet, I’m not sure I completely agree that the “democratization of journalism” is to blame as much as the 24 hour news cycle and the wedding of news to the entertainment industry. Gotta find something to fill all that air time and compete with Sons of Anarchy for ratings.

    Your post paints a very appealing picture of the “gatekeepers.” I’m not so sure about that. This of course isn’t to say that professional journalists don’t play a valuable role in sifting through the information to find the “news.” And yet, if news media wasn’t so tied to entertainment, they would still be doing that. Instead, to keep their ratings up, they’ll report on just about anything that gains traction on the internet – thus legitimizing the conversation in the public arena.

    We still look to the professional journalists to…if nothing else, validate the news we’re gleaning in other places. Whether we’re talking about McTernan, Rachel Held Evans, or your own Ramadan experience – getting the story picked up by the “professional journalists” has tremendous influence on the public (for better or worse). If the journalists continued to exercise discernment, could it still have the impact you describe, in spite of the decentralized component…or do you believe the cat’s already out of the bag?

    The question may be pointless. The news media needs to keep their ratings up so we can probably continue to expect these stories to dominate.

    Furthermore, I’m not entirely sure we want gatekeepers doing all the sifting. Haven’t we seen how damaging that has been in the church? In fact, you and I are both heavily involved in the process of untangling the passive culture created by too many religious gatekeepers with too much control.

    I wonder, had facebook and twitter popular then, would we have been so quiet for so long about Darfur, conflict diamonds, or Rwanda? Whether it was because the news sources didn’t do much reporting, or the public didn’t see itself as involved in the news process doesn’t matter – we, as a people, were largely silent. That is changing.

    We may get overly involved in the tirades of a neurotic religious quack…but we also feel obligated to speak out and increase pressure on our politicians regarding injustices that we have historically ignored. Action still lags behind awareness…but perhaps that tide is changing as well.

    I realize I am dangerously close to romanticizing populist movements, but consider the impact that amateur journalists (bloggers, fb and twitter users) have had on the last two elections. We don’t just sit and wait for the man in the tv to read us the news anymore – we’re involved…

    God help us.

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