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The Maddening Media

A suggestion for getting away from the blame game.

by Rita Ayers
March 7, 2007

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The Maddening Media
We knew about Enterprise High School less than 45 minutes after it happened. What I couldn't know then was that, once again, someone would be looking for a place to lay blame.
While watching the various news channels that evening, I heard one reporter ask an emergency official for the county if enough had been done to protect the students and staff of Enterprise High School. He gave a most appropriate answer, I felt, which was basically this: "It is extremely rare for four wind shears to converge at the same location and the same time; I do not know what other steps could have been taken to protect against that."
I agreed completely. I looked at the remnants of the building that served as a backdrop for the Coffee County officer's comments and felt that they had done a fantastic job to save any lives at all, given that wreckage. We have frequent tornado drills in my high school and, believe it or not, they are taken far more seriously by students than you would imagine. That may be due in large part to the fact that Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina are still vivid in the minds of our current student population. The point is, the students at Enterprise were doing precisely what they had been taught to do, and the only thing they could do within the short time span they had to act. (There were only 29 minutes between the time they were alerted and the time the twister hit their school.) We do exactly the same thing here – away from windows, into the interior of the building and in the hallways as much as possible, on the floor, heads protected. We all know that these steps would be futile indeed should a storm lift our school from its foundation.
Nevertheless, I have continued to hear question after question from reporters: "Why were the students still in school? What more could have been done? Did faculty and staff members react appropriately?"
Listen to me, and listen good. Leave it alone. The families and friends of these victims, along with the community at large, will already suffer enough without having to be beleaguered with these types of questions. Sometimes, an act of God simply occurs. That is all.
I was encouraged to see one vignette of an Enterprise woman, mother to three sons who survived the tornado. Accompanied by two of these young men, she told her story of being trapped in the guidance counselor's office during the storm and emerging to see hordes of young people walking down the halls, bloodied and dazed. As I expected, the reporter ended the segment with the same tired question: "Did the school do enough to protect its students?"
Much to her credit, the mother said exactly the right thing. "I don't know what else they could have done. If they had released them, they might have all been in their cars, and things could have been far worse." This lady has my utmost admiration for letting her cool head prevail and see the reality of the no-win situation.
The whole media thing is just really becoming impossible to take. I feel I waste valuable hours of time trying to weed through the garbage to get to the "news." While I may feel terribly sad for Anna Nicole Smith and the losses she endured, I was sickened by the moment-by-moment video coverage of not one, but two, solemn black hearses departing a Florida medical examiner's office en route to the Bahamas. I guess the media figured out way back in the O.J. days that the public loves this sort of footage; I can't quite figure out why.
Come to think of it, it's not just news that bothers me these days. I was watching a movie the other day, which I ordinarily love to do. I can't even remember what it was and it's not important anyway. The important thing was that, at a certain point in the film, the wife said a line of dialogue and I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, precisely what the husband would say in reply, or rather, in retort in this case. I started noticing the predictability of the whole script and plot, which is not atypical. But what occurred to me for the first time was just how much we pattern our own conversations after what we've heard in the movies, on TV, or in the case of the younger crowd, perhaps from video games and song lyrics. Do we have minds of our own these days? Are we capable of original thought and action?
We don't have enough federal holidays in this country, so I propose another one. August seems to be devoid of special days, unlike all the other months, so let's just arbitrarily pick the first Monday in August (so it will be a three-day weekend, of course; we can't have anything mid-week, or what would be the point?) On this day, we have a media blackout. No TV, no movie houses open, no newspapers printed, no radio broadcasts, no internet service providers providing – in short, everyone must resort to doing what they did back before FDR's fireside chats, before Walter Cronkite told us the way it was, before USA Today was dropped at every hotel room doorstep. 
What I would enjoy doing on this gift of a day would be having long, wonderful conversations with close family members and friends, but each of you can choose your own medicine. You could go for a hike in the mountains, a stroll on the beach, or a walk in the deep forest – alone or with a significant other. You could play softball with your kids and neighbors, or go fishing with a cane pole at the creek.  Ride a bike, fly a kite, take a swim, or pick blackberries by the roadside, if you choose.  
What you cannot do on No Media Day is exchange gifts or cards, decorate your home for the occasion, dye eggs, answer the door for costumed individuals, bake a turkey or drink green beer. It should absolutely be a time set aside for reflecting on what a joy every moment in life should and could be; thus, none of those media-reinforced ideas for celebrating a holiday (and making you work your fingers to the bone in the process) are allowed. It's a day for being creative without outside influences.
The best part of No Media Day would be this: not one soul would be allowed to ask the question, "Did you do enough in observance of No Media Day this year?" No guilt, no blame – just one day that is yours, all yours. Enjoy! It's my gift to you.

Comments (4)

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Brooks Gardner from Central TarHeelia writes:
March 7, 2007
Thanks Rita! The media, too often, tries to finded the screw up for the terrible events that we face as occupants of this violent planet. You are so right somethings are just an act of God. The media could be more helpful and helping to resolve the pain and suffering not to find who may have done something quicker, better, or safer. We are in despirate need to over come finding someone to blame. Our reactions in difficult situations indicate that we are willing to react. If we don't react in a helpful way then perhaps we should reassess our reason for living. If the press cannot react, except to find falt, then they shouldn't exist either. The next thing you know someone is going to blame the archichect of Enterprise High School. They are going to ask questions like , "why didn't you consider this possibility". It's a bit like asking why a roof to support 100 inches of snow wasn't built in Florida.

We need to help people heal, not hate.

Keith K. from Silverhill, AL writes:
March 7, 2007
Great insight, Rita. There is a place for investigative reporting, but it probably isn't in a debris-covered schoolyard with bloodied and dazed students stumbling about.

"What else could have been done?" "Did school officials do enough?" If the public keeps listening to the media hype and keeps asking such questions, we may get to the point that no students will be attending school on any day that is cloudy!

Finally, while I like your idea of a "No Media Day," I foresee one little problem: The media will want to cover it!

M Crawford from Daphne, AL writes:
March 7, 2007
I was raised twelve miles from Cullman Co. in Alabama, number one county for tornado strikes. Nobody can prepare or plan for nights like April of '74 or the devestating strike in '89 in Huntsville. I understand. I don't understand the media. Take this to our personal lives. How many of you that are parents understand the concept of "thinking of everything?" Well, Rita is right. We can't. Short story to make a point: several years ago a classmate of my son (they were around 16 at the time) snuck out of his house to cross the road and get a soda from the vending machine. It didn't vend. He jarred the machine to in turn jar the soda out. The machine fell, killing him. I thought I had prepared my kids for most things. That one I had missed....never even concieved of in my deepest, darkest moments.

We can't think of everything. I don't know that I want to even be capable of such a thing.
Great job once again, Rita.

Brooke from Tuscaloosa, AL writes:
March 8, 2007
Exactly! I'm so sick of people looking at me like I've got stuff all over my face when I say "I haven't seen it" in response to "It's been all over the news; haven't you been watching!?" I would much rather take a nice walk outside or cuddle up with the newest book I'm reading than listen to my television drag on and on about Paris Hilton or "this celebrity offended this other celebrity today and now all of Hollywood is in an uproar." Seriously? Excellent article!

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