It always feels odd to write about a “news” event when the argument you are trying to make is that no one should have paid attention in the first place. It’s ironic, at best. And probably closer to idiotic. Understanding that to be the case, we’ve rustled up what we think are some important articles that addressed the much-talked-about Koran burning that is to take place on September 11. Important if for no other reason than they would hopefully guide us when the next media-hungry sensationalist attempts to get everyone, including the White House, to respond to some stunt. Unfortunately, calls to ignore sensationalism tend to get lost in the frenzy.
Writing for the Orlando Sentinel, Mike Thomas argues that General Petraeus’ warning should have been directed at the media:
We could help head off such future nonsense if we folded up the circus tent and left Jones alone with his blowtorch and 30 followers.
Maybe if Gen. Petraeus told the media that it isn't Rev. Jones who is endangering troops. That it is our coverage of Rev. Jones. That without us, this book burning would be little more than a grainy video on YouTube.
At The Economist blogger M.S. files the media grab and its central figure under “people who do foolish, crazy things to get in the news”:
I PREFER not to reward people for doing crazy, foolish things to get in the news, but the people who run most news outlets disagree with me, probably because the public at large does too. And since the public likes to read news about people who do foolish, crazy things to get in the news, the news is often dominated by people doing crazy, foolish things. Sometimes this leaves me feeling stuck; it's hard to find anything interesting to say about people acting foolish and crazy. But I did greatly appreciate today's headline in the San Francisco Chronicle: “Man scales S.F. tower to publicize his message”. In this case the reason for the nondescript headline was probably just that this fellow's agenda was too odd and complex to explain in ten words or less. But think about it: what a great way to report objectionable or violent publicity stunts, right? What could be more frustrating for a publicity-seeking extremist than to have the media refuse to report their cause? “Men set off bomb to publicise their message.” “Youths insult people to publicise their message.” Or, more recently, “Group will burn texts to seek media hype.”
On the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch Alexander Zaitchik compares the actions of Terry Jones to those of another “media-hungry hate-church preacher”:
Like the stunts pulled by [Fred] Phelps (who runs the infamous Godhatesfags.com website), “International Burn a Koran Day” seems designed to draw heavy fire from editorialists and television news crews. Jones, the Dove World Outreach leader, posts a semi-regular “Braveheart” show on YouTube, and clearly revels in media attention.
If stories like this are not going to stay out of the public eye—and let’s face it, they’re not—then it’s best to look for people at least trying to engage with the topic in an intelligent way, like Nina Shea and Paul Marshall do at National Review Online or Adam Serwer does at The American Prospect. Serwer argues that “‘Burn a Quran’” day and the protests in Afghanistan are symptoms of larger problems,” and in an honest attempt to discuss the issue of free speech behind the Koran burning, Shea and Marshall look at Islamic blasphemy strictures around the world and conclude,
If Islam, and Islam alone, were to be protected by the state from critique, an illiberal interpretation of Islam would attain a de facto privileged status in the United States. Conversely, should Christianity, Judaism, and other religions also benefit from such state protection, fundamental individual freedoms would be essentially negated.
Pastor Terry Jones’s Koran-burning spectacle potentially holds the danger of hurting the war effort, General Petraeus has warned. Jones should be criticized, denounced, and urged — but not coerced — to give up his insensitive publicity stunt.