Monday, May 07, 2007

Let's Tell It Like It Is

Within hours of the Virginia Tech Massacre I posted my reflections on this horrific tragedy and I did not hesitate to refer to the killing of innocent people as evil. Gregg Easterbrook has written at The New Republic his own observation on the unwillingness of the today’s media to use clear and descriptive language when it comes to evil. He concludes that the media is “Trigger Shy”.

“Katie Couric: ‘Just who is this shooter?’ Charles Gibson: ‘Tonight—the survivors, their stories; the shooter, his background.’ Matt Lauer: ‘We’ve now got an identity of the shooter.’”

On ABC, NBC and CBS, in the 72 hours after the tragedy, the word “shooter” was heard three times as often as “killer” or “murderer”. Even though it was clear within minutes, certainly within hours that murder had taken place most reporters would not refer to a killer but rather preferred the neutral term “shooter”.

A shooter is someone who holds a gun and the trigger is pulled and the gun is fired. “Shooter” gives no hint of intent or morality. “Killer” tells us that evil was a work in a person who took the lives of others.

Easterbrook points out that it is certainly appropriate to use neutral language when all the facts are not known. But in the light of all the facts the worst the New York Times could bring itself to say is that Cho suffered a “troubled mental state” and “imbalance”. Had the Times called Cho a “madman”, the paper would have been criticized for using a judgmental term about a mass murderer. Without the sick video taped ranting by Cho released by NBC, it is clear to most of us that one does not lock the exits to the building so no one can escape and then go kill 32 unarmed innocent people unless one is “deranged” (mentally disturbed) and “mad” (angry, provoked).

Also in the news over the weekend was the acceptance of former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey into the Episcopal Church and into the Episcopalian General Theological Seminary where McGreevey will be trained for the ministry. For the media the story is another chapter in the unusual story of a twice married and now “outed” gay man who will go from the governor’s mansion into ministry.

In my mind the story is about a “liar” (having been “outed” in many lies to his wife and New Jersey constituents) and an “oath breaker” (marital vows broken) and an “adulterer” (having a sexual affair with another person who is not your spouse) who is “unrepentant” (without acknowledgement of wrong-doing and sin) being accepted as a candidate for ministry. I feel no ill will toward McGreevey nor do I feel compelled to try to condemn him. I’m simply using appropriate language to describe the known realities about his life.

A judgmental attitude that contemporary culture frequently screams about is also unacceptable to Bible believing Christians. We sin if we seek to build ourselves up by tearing other people down. But, the Bible also makes it clear that when someone cheats on his wife he is an adulterer. One who tells lies is not prone to exaggeration but is in fact a liar. One who knowingly takes the life of another is a murderer. If someone’s esteem takes a hit because of such language then it should because they have crossed a moral line established by God and therefore he or she has “sinned”.

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