Let's be clear, the actions of this young man were evil and made even more despicable by the motive that appears to have fueled him. Racial superiority is a sentiment that should have gone the way of cro magnon man. It is ugly and baseless. The subject of this post is not the young man and the details of his life or the motivation behind his actions... All the world is fixated on these things.
I am going to talk about the second crime that no one else will mention. This, equally despicable, premeditated action is captured in this oversized (it filled the entire front fold of the weekend issue) headline:
USA Today is the specific perpetrator in this instance but the larger media machine are accessories. This headline promotes a vicious lie and misrepresents the truth. The consequence of this purposeful libel will harm millions. It has an impact that will extend far beyond the burial of the shooting victims. The perpetrator is the media and their motive is money. Their agenda is to sell newspapers at the expense of the social well-being of this country. Unlike the shooter, they will never be held accountable for their actions.
Let me explain my accusations by first suggesting what SHOULD have been the headline if the goal was to represent the prevailing reality of the story: Love in America. Both love and hate were evidenced the past several days in South Carolina in relation to the events at hand. Both were profoundly displayed. But here is the central element, the operative fact, the truth that should inform our understanding, our attitudes and our future behavior: How many espoused the cause of hate? One individual. How many, comparatively, espoused the cause of love? Many, hundreds, thousands! That is the story that should be told, that is the quantitatively true reality of what happened in South Carolina. That is the essences of what America is today. Yes, evil and hate took center stage for two tragic minutes and nine people were denied the gift of life (and scores of family and friends denied future joy with their loved ones) but in contrast to the two minutes of hate is more than 2,000 minutes of love, compassion, kindness and demonstrations of all that is good about humanity.
To promote the exception, the extreme minority, the quantitative and qualitative aberration as the story is irresponsible and morally wrong. The only benefactors are the investors and employees of the USA Today and other media outlets. In every social, natural and political event the media has an agenda and it is primarily Darwinian: to survive and prosper. All other motivations (truth, inform, social accountability, etc.) are secondary.
By prostituting hate, the media passed on an opportunity to engage in a sophisticated discussion about an unfortunate reality of life: how great evil can be accomplished by one person but how good is established in the small actions of the masses. This social truth is now on display in South Carolina. Singular events of bad people can negatively change the world -we only need to look at John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, Mao Zedong- but the virtue of the unknown core of society has power to over ride the actions of the few. That is the story of South Carolina and if we continue to proclaim a story of hate we will eventually believe it and fulfill it.
We are approaching a tipping point in these things. Those individuals and institutions who wield influence must set aside their narrow political and financial agendas. These events are not opportunities to be leveraged and manipulated to ones benefit. The idea of never letting a serious crisis go to waste (a la Rom Emanuel) is a despicable strategy. The answer to the current crisis is compassion, a quality that defines the American people far more than any other. We have come along way in some areas but in others we have slid dangerously toward the edge. Two observations from a man who had only the agenda of humanity are prescriptive in the current situation:
"Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation."
"I have seen too much hate to want to hate, myself... and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear."
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
We must overcome. Whether it is the hate demonstrated by a lone man or the hate ascribed and assigned by the media. The story of my America is compassion.