Editor’s Note

When the news is like gazing into ‘the abyss’

Some weeks back I received a series of increasingly irate phone calls from a reader who didn’t like a column the Spirit ran on our opinion page. The caller also disliked the Spirit’s publishing what he called “controversial” stories, disliked the Spirit’s publishing feature pieces, disliked the Spirit’s use of photographs. After a while it started to feel a little like “Groundhog Day.”

I recalled my caller’s complaints this week after reading about the fallout from the decision by Rolling Stone magazine to run a cover that depicted Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev done up like some smoldering rock hero. Because the cover appears to glorify Tsarnaev, a number of newsstands have said they won’t carry the issue. Critics say Rolling Stone should concentrate on reporting on what it’s good at — music.

Readers will remember a similar eruption more than a year ago as a result of Time magazine’s cover story about “attachment parenting,” and the news weekly illustrating the point with a way too good-looking mother staring down the reader with a hand on her hip, her 3-year-old son clamped to a breast.

How the media presents its information is always a moving target and provoking, challenging the reader, even, is a dicey affair — risks a’plenty in this age when many news consumers prefer the echo chambers of the Left or Right. Some will say they only want the news to educate and inform them then happily ingest anything Ed Schultz or Sean Hannity have to say, as if Hannity or Schultz are not peddling a point of view.

But cold feet and a free and viable press don’t mix.

The media is not doing its job if it is not forcing us to evaluate and re-evaluate our sacredest of cows. What repels us also has the power to compel us, to give clear expression to half-formed notions, or sometimes even to bounce us into a great paradigm shift. You never know.

In an opinion piece on FoxNews.com about the cover and the subsequent release of photographs by Boston Police Sgt. Sean Murphy, Dr. Keith Ablow comes to completely the wrong conclusion about the Rolling Stone cover, despite brilliantly citing Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”

Readers of the news are sometimes forced to gaze into the abyss, to confront things we don’t understand and to try to make sense of them. And the media, if it’s doing its job, is here to throw some light into the pit, to find silhouetted within some outline of understanding.

Otherwise you’re just here for a daily update about Uncle Walt and Skeezix.

— Robert Snyder

 

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