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Solving the Media Puzzle: A Day in the Life

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Message Bernard Weiner
When I was growing up, my teenage mind needed to find the pieces to the confusing, chaotic puzzle that was reality. How to make sense of all this information that constantly was coming at me?

Part of my solution was to become a journalist, getting right into the heart of the information barrage so that maybe I could more easily sort it all out. The result was a love-affair with, and long career in, journalism. Even today, I still use reporting and analyzing to help me make my way through the world's seeming chaos.

These thoughts came to me the other day as I was reading the morning paper. If I were a visitor from another planet, I imagined, what sense could I make of earthling, especially American, society from what one could read on this single day, November 11, 2005, in one hometown newspaper -- in this case, the San Francisco Chronicle? Were there connections, larger lessons, hidden clues that would help it all make sense?

So here goes, one morning's newspaper seen as a political jigsaw puzzle. Here are the pieces; let's see how they fit together with each other, and with the information from television and the internet.


The two large-headline, above-the-fold stories involved California's Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Fox News' larger-than-life personality Bill O'Reilly.

A. Story: Virtually everyone, including his wife, had warned Schwarzenegger not to call a special election, but he bulled on through, at a cost to the state and counties of nearly $45 million. But Schwarzenegger, having run into a brick wall with all of his special-election measures ignominiously going down to defeat across the state, took personal responsibility for the fiasco.

Analysis: Schwarzenegger didn't try to shift the blame and said he'd learned valuable lessons, the main one being that the voters clearly wanted these issues settled by the legislators and governor working together, not by the costly initiative process outside the usual lawmaking channels. He promised he'd work more closely with Democrats and labor unions (nurses, teachers, firefighters, police, et al.) -- all of whom he grievously insulted time and time again in the run-up to the election -- in solving the state's many economic and social problems. The governor hadn't kept many of his previous commitments -- he promised not to be beholden to special interests, not to take money from the state's education fund without paying it back, etc. -- so we shall have to wait and see if he keeps these new promises. But at least he owned up to his folly.


B. Story: Bill O'Reilly more or less encouraged Al Qaida terrorists to attack San Francisco, because the voters last week approved sense-of-the-city resolutions disapproving of military recruiters on public school campuses, and against handgun ownership by civilians. Now one can agree or disagree with the wisdom of one or both of those measures, and of the intelligence of voters in approving them, but that's not what O'Reilly did. He favored a more extreme option. Here's what he said to San Franciscans on his show the other night:

>>"You want to be your own country? Go right ahead. And if Al Qaida comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead."

Analysis: To O'Reilly, free speech, where voters express themselves at the polls, is somehow totally illegitimate when O'Reilly doesn't like the way they voted. Therefore and ergo, it follows in O'Reilly's perfect logic that the city in which such thoughts are expressed should be blown up, in this case by terrorists. The rest of America will then turn its back on a sinful place that received its just desserts.

And O'Reilly isn't the only HardRight conservative to express such radical views.

Story: On Page 16, Pat Robertson, the Christian evangelical preacher, expressed pretty much the same feelings about the voters of Dover, PA., who basically fired their entire board of education because they had ordered science instructors to teach theological speculation rather than science. The issue, of course, was whether something called "intelligent design" theory should be taught in science classes along with Darwin's evolutionary findings. (Teaching I.D. in philosophy or theology classes was fine.) Here is what preacher Robertson said after the voters acted:

>>"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city."

Analysis: Robertson, you see, believes he speaks for God; if you don't agree with the preacher, then clearly you're in need of some serious Biblical smiting. If a tornado strikes Dover or if there should be a terrorist attack on that town, you're on your own. You've rejected The Lord. Tough love, brother.

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Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked for two decades as a writer-editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (more...)
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