This failure became blatantly obvious when the national media celebrated — with no moral questioning — the pyrotechnics of the advanced weapons in the first Gulf War. We watched on TV thousands die in spectacular red and yellow explosions from cruise missiles and stealth bombers — and the talking heads were in awe, but did not seem shocked by the loss of life.
Then there was the second Gulf War, the war in Iraq. The media did little questioning of America's motives, the evidence for war, and offered little history.
How many Americans remembered that the United States had fought a long proxy war with the Soviet Union, with Saddam Hussein as our ally in his war against Iran, the Soviet's ally? There are pictures of Donald Rumsfeld shaking Saddam's hand, sealing the deal in our arms deliveries.
No wonder we thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction — we had the receipts.
But Saddam was bluffing the Iranians by bragging about the potential use of such weapons. In fact, he had destroyed them. Did TV news people sniff any of this out? They seemed as fearful of that mushroom cloud as Condoleezza Rice!
We have just been through weeks of the national media's obsession with the George Zimmerman trial. Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, etc., had constant coverage of the trial, constant discussions with the so-called experts on the merits of the case, with little insight into the actual facts, which were not clear enough to convince a jury that Zimmerman was guilty.
I am not arguing that this case was not important. My point is that the national media made a circus out of it, and way out of proportion. What about the dozens of black kids being murdered in Chicago each month?
The media made the Zimmerman trial a black-versus-Latino contest to stir up the audience and hike the ratings. Why this single case got all the attention, whereas other murder trials of both black and white teens never received a glance, says much about the moral failure of TV news: Hype one murder case, forget the others.
Television is also failing to inform us of facts, thereby educating us. Rather, they chase ambulances for ratings and then sensationalize tragedies. Moreover, in a half-hour of such broadcasting, we are subjected to at least 10 minutes of commercials — stories of children being slaughtered being interrupted by ads for Viagra!
In the weeks of the media's obsession with Zimmerman's trial (and then the endless harping about the verdict), the war in Afghanistan was rarely mentioned. The increase of student loan rates and the failure of Congress to deal with this — or anything for that matter — were barely examined.
Is the failure of the national media to highlight the moral issues of the day, and its failure to inform us of the facts pertinent to these issues, a product of trying to get the best ratings? I think so.
The Church used to be the moral force within our society which examined moral failings, such as racial segregation, thereby leading the moral discussion. The Church had much to do with the pressure to get out of Vietnam.
Where is the voice of the Church today on the moral issues facing us such as the war in Afghanistan, our national debt, background checks on the purchase of guns, climate change, and the disparity between the top 1 percent in wealth and income and the other 99 percent? Abortion and gay marriage seem to be the only moral issues that the Church speaks out on with passion.
I am sure many courageous pastors raise a variety of moral issues from the pulpit, but there are no national religious leaders any longer of the caliber of Martin Luther King Jr. Pope John Paul II did speak out against the war in Iraq, but he seemed to be a voice crying out in the wilderness.
If the media is failing to highlight moral issues, and if the Church is not perceived to be a moral force worthy of being covered by the mass media, where are Americans going to turn for facts and the moral analysis of those facts?
Americans need to be critical thinkers. The television news industry is failing us in the development of that critical skill for a functioning democracy.
— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune religion columnist