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Thursday, Sep 20 2012 11:00 PM

BRIK McDILL: Let's cool it and remember: Every culture has its zealots

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    Brik McDill

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As Horace Walpole once quipped, "Life is a tragedy to those who feel and a comedy to those who think." So I'm not sure whether to be saddened, outraged or amused over the news coverage of the Arab revolt over the Prophet Muhammad-bashing trailer released by a misguided criminal from Cerritos. As if the trailer were not bad enough, what has made matters worse is the news media's handling of it.

Tempers flared (not surprising as a first reaction), but then news media and campaign rhetoric disgrace quickly followed. Both media and Republican guns blindly fired volleys of inaccurate criticism. Sunday morning news program hosts went wild with false facts and theories about the who, the what and the why of the events unfolding across the globe.

Don't the news media still have a journalistic duty to report confirmed, verified and doubly sourced information? Or can they now run willy-nilly to the cameras with mere scraps and shards of info soon to be revealed as erroneous? Oops, my bad. And on they go with no professional or career repercussions. Remember when Dan Rather was summarily and ignominiously sacked for his alleged misreporting on George W. Bush and his abandoned National Guard obligations? All it took was the allegation itself to wreck his career for a decade and more.

So why do Sunday morning talk-show hosts and talking heads get a pass for reckless and wild speculation and accusation? Where are the adults who can tell the media to slow it down until the data's in and the unfolding story begins to more fully tell itself, bit by painful bit. Ah, yes, the scramble to get the scoop, then the mad dash for the cameras.

And what about politicians going hyperbolic on camera with one unfounded assertion after another? Have they, too, no shame for whipping emotion into a frenzy over what's soon to be seen as vastly different from what they tried earlier to sell as gospel truth, so help me God. Please, where's the legislative leader who, with calm compose, tells his hysterical peers and constituents to hold their fire until the story is more fully known and can be more factually told.

And, have we consumers of the news so completely lost our critical thinking skills that we allow ourselves to be whipped into hysteria by "this just in" breaking news? Yes, I know, it's all about ratings. But c'mon, isn't factual accuracy more important than ratings primacy? Maybe not.

Let's all slow things down, cool our jets. Let's all let more thoughtful heads prevail (including ours). There's nothing to gain by rushing hair-on-fire to judgment and lots to lose with the stakes as high as they are with the present case. Except for the Cold War, which ended with the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, the world has not been in such a tender balance as now. With what the Internet can do to foment uprisings across the globe, we need to judiciously respond to eruptions, dividing the truly serious from those driven by mere fanatics or fringe groups. There are uprisings and there are uprisings. Some portend more menacing approaching dangers. Some are but a global case of the sniffles.

The recent losses of life are painful to be sure, and our hearts break for their families and loved ones, but they are not about government against government. Let's not make them that by what we read into them. Samuel Huntington wrote extensively about the "clash of civilizations," and with the aid of the Internet, cellphones and flash mobs, we're seeing one face of it. There's a fanatic fringe out there that's a real and vocal part of every civilization, including ours. Let's keep in mind the present case along with Timothy McVeigh and the protesters who stake out abortion clinics and kill doctors as examples of how we, too, have our zealots.

We'll probably be seeing more and more of this behavior. Let's not make these eruptions more than they are. All together now, let's take a deep, slow breath.

Brik McDill, Ph.D., of Tehachapi has spent 40 years in private practice in clinical and forensic psychology. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words.

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