The fact that the murder of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller is still making headlines nearly two weeks after his death has led some to accuse the media of exploiting the situation to paint all pro-life advocates as violent extremists. Although I’m not convinced that reporting on the incident reflects a liberal bias as much as the more practical “if it bleeds it leads” bias, it is clear that much of the rhetoric among left-wing personalities like Keith Olberman has been infused with unfair generalities.
However, I would caution against anyone pointing the finger when it comes to painting with a broad brush. When we are honest with ourselves, it’s hard not to notice how a part of us rejoices whenever a representative of an opposing ideology does something so horrendous or embarrassing or extreme that we can stand up, and with a rush of righteous indignation say, “See! That’s how they are!”
Both liberals and conservatives, religious and unreligious, privileged and under-privileged are guilty of doing such.
I once attended a lecture in which a right-wing evangelical speaker used isolated examples of eco-terrorism to paint the entire green movement as having a “violent, anti-Christian agenda.” And we all remember the palpable giddiness of the Fox News anchors when the Rev. Wright tapes were unearthed and replayed over and over again during the 2008 election. Sometimes I find myself feeling a little relieved when a televangelist gets arrested for fraud or when Rush Limbaugh makes a sexist remark. It makes it so much easier for me to hate them.
This kind of easy outrage happens whenever someone blames 9-11 on religion or the Holocaust on evolutionary theory. It happens every time Lou Dobbs does a long expose on a crime committed by an illegal immigrant. It happens when we sneer at Miss California as one of those dumb Prop8 supporters or shun the profanity-laced rants of Parez Hilton as the hate of another angry gay.
When someone with whom we disagree clearly crosses the line, it’s like we get a free pass. Our enemies become more manageable and our prejudices more justifiable. Secretly we are thankful for the chance to pit black against white without having to take into consideration the many shades of gray.
Perhaps we do this because we are lazy. Perhaps we do it because we are insecure. Perhaps we do it because, deep down, we’re afraid of what will happen when we discover there are ways in which we might actually agree.
Do you think the media has exploited the Tiller murder to make all pro-life advocates look bad? In what other situations have you observed such exploitation take place?
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