A friend shared the meme to the left on Facebook recently. It was apparently written to be a humorous, if slightly crude, allegory about not sweating the small stuff. However, it is an excellent example of one problem facing the United States and other more parts of the world where some sort of democracy still exists.
Several posts in “An Old Cop’s Place” address or touch on the issue this meme highlights. In one case, a post included two true stories about public figures who were trying to deal with falsehoods or misrepresentations in the news. In both cases, the parties involved survived the encounter, unlike the poor bishop. That is, they survived physically, but their careers and reputations were destroyed.
In the donkey story, the media did nothing wrong. Unless, of course, you feel the headlines quoted were themselves misleading or maliciously motivated. Be that as it may, malicious or skewed headlines are only part of the problem, in the meme and in the United States. The real problem, as I have stated before, is the abuse of the First Amendment allowed by a 1964 Supreme Court ruling that did not have a clue what the “news” would look like in a few decades.
Here, the bishop mostly brought the problem on himself. If he had not overreacted, he might have been able to live the matter down. Instead, his knee jerk response to the first headline led to the second. Instead of allowing the situation to die of natural causes, he kept reacting in a manner that allowed the questionable or tongue in cheek headlines to continue.
In the real world, the full range of publications included in the term media allows misrepresentation, misinformation, and outright slander to take on a life of their own. As noted in other posts, and illustrated by the satirical meme, fighting back is often a case of winning the battle and losing the war.
Again, it is only a losing battle because of a Supreme Court ruling that should probably be overruled or amended in some fashion. Famously, or infamously if you’re not a fan, President Trump fights back with the same media used to attack him. True, in other cases, he may use media to pick a fight as well. Whether one feels his actions are unpresidential or a legitimate way of taking the fight to his critics, he has changed the game.
Free speech is an important right. It is one for which we should all fight daily. Yet, it should not be a get out of jail free card for people who use it nefariously. It is possible modifying the court decision making it open season on public figures would change the way things are done. The president might act more presidential. Members of Congress and the media might be less likely to say or publish rubbish just because they can. Society itself might become more civil.
The “moral of the story” in the meme was, “Being concerned about public opinion can bring you much grief and misery and even shorten your life. So be yourself and enjoy life. You’ll be a lot happier and live longer!”
The advice offered in the quote above may indeed be useful in some circumstances. It is not good advice in all cases, and our society is clearly shifting in a direction that makes it even less appropriate. Failing to respond to inappropriate and false accusations may lead to continued attacks and bullying.
Whether one is speaking of a country’s leader or a kid on the playground, there are times when something other than turning the other cheek is appropriate. Likewise, there are times when attempting to change the behavior of online and media bullies is necessary, as well, perhaps with a tweet.