Intolerant Behavior and the Media – Published Letter

The following was published on-line by the Raleigh News & Observer: http://blogs.newsobserver.com/opinion/health-care-reform-rage-relentless-0.

I wrote the piece after attending a town hall meeting on healthcare reform in Durham, NC in August with a friend where we witnessed an individual assaulted in the audience and the meeting disrupted by individuals shouting ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’.   This behavior is indeed misplaced as the very fact that such a meeting was taking place, where individuals could ask questions and express opinion, was an expression of the liberties and freedoms that we enjoy in this country.  But, of more concern is that intolerant behavior is being expressed in more dangerous ways around our country and I discuss the role that certain elements of media have played in stoking the fires of intolerance and manipulating fear.Letter:

Intolerant behavior is seen in public meetings on health insurance reform where speakers have been shouted down.  More seriously, it is being expressed as a reported 400 percent increase in death threats to President Obama over that of President Bush, a rise in anti-government militias and loaded weapons appearing at public forums.

Although most share a genuine passion on both sides of the health-care debate, elements of the media have been gaming intolerance, and that is dangerous practice. Rush Limbaugh has a long history of issuing racially offensive language that cost him his job at ESPN in 2003. He has, for example, used the term halfrican American and played a tune called “Barack the Magic Negro” on his show. He has gamed intolerance and then tells his audience that he hopes this president fails. Glenn Beck (Fox News) has drawn comparison between the Democratic and Nazi parties. There are those who believe this absurdity, and pictures are circulated of Obama sporting a Hitler-style mustache and talk of death squads as part of the proposed legislation.

The behavior is destructive, divisive and even dangerous. It is counterproductive to achieving a meaningful national dialogue on social issues. Although some defend the right of the media to issue such rhetoric, we as a public, and corporations, have no obligation to condone, support or sponsor this brand of irresponsible journalism.

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