The news media, to some extent, is a vessel for popular opinion. What it carries is ultimately up to the audience that supports and sustains it. And maybe the media, at day’s end, is simply an echo chamber. So, what does it say about us, as a culture, when the media’s reaction to the horrific shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and others earlier this year was to blame the nation’s political culture? After all, at least one spokesperson for a national organization said that it is the “building levels of vitriol in our political discourse that have surely contributed to the atmosphere in which this event transpired.” Many have voiced similar sentiments. Remember all the fracas over Sarah Palin’s provocative (pre-rampage) statements that Rep. Giffords was on her “target list” for supporting “Obamacare” and Palin’s tweet: “Don’t Retreat, Instead — RELOAD!“
At the time, congressional members of both parties responded to the media coverage as a wake-up call, a tragic, unspeakable sign from on high that some things need to change. Instead, so far nothing has really changed and perhaps few people really expected it would. The fervor died down and the media moved on to its next newsworthy sound bite. None of this is surprising, given that the media’s attention span is reflective of a popular culture whose collective focus moves at the speed of a hummingbird’s metabolism. Getting everyone to behave a little more rationally is hardly the role of the media-as-echo-chamber anyway. It is up to each one of us to tamp the fires and understand that we cannot permit anti-government sentiment to succumb to the passion-inciting rhetoric that is fueled by extreme partisan talk shows and websites, on both sides of the divide.
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