Spurning debate not the answer

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”

— Noam Chomsky

 

The cover was like most others at newsstands across the country. Teases to about half a dozen stories. On the bus with Willie Nelson. The Arctic Ice Melt. Jay-Z’s “Magna Carta” stumble. Robin Thicke: Pretty fly for a white guy. Gary Clark Jr. The reluctant guitar hero.

The sixth tease was the one that caused the reaction. “The Bomber: How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster.”

That was the cover story tease, accompanying a picture of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. That was the reason stores boycotted the magazine, and citizens threatened to boycott stores that didn’t.

Not for specific parts of the cover story, which weren’t discussed in the 24-hour news cycle. Not for some cover photo full of gore; the kid on the cover looked more like the kid with a Gatorade that you’d let go ahead of you at the grocery store checkout than any type of criminal mastermind.

Boston Mayor Tom Menino said the cover story only served to glorify the bomber, while a Massachusetts grocery store chain said the magazine cover constituted, “actions that serve to glorify the evil actions of anyone.”

First off, I wouldn’t feel very glorified if the final three words used to describe me were, “became a monster.” Second, I don’t recall stores racing to pull Time magazine covers with Tim McVeigh or Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, or even Osama bin Laden.

 

“I have the movie ‘Jaws’ at home on DVD. There’s a shark on the cover. I never thought the shark was the hero.”

— Bill Maher

 

I kind of wish all of the reporters and anchors that led panel discussions on the magazine cover had read the corresponding article. It would have given a lot more insight, as opposed to talking to correspondents at the top of the hour to echo the same things discussed with the correspondent an hour before.

Maybe we could discuss why the cover makes us uncomfortable. Is it because Tsarnaev’s picture doesn’t match our visual expectation of an Islamic terrorist, and that scares us too much?

Haven’t we gone through enough troubles because we accepted a convenient explanation? Couldn’t we fight terrorism better if we know how promising students become terrorists, and find ways to discourage recruitment instead of simply saying they’re evil and hate freedom?

I don’t know all of the answers, but I do know that refusing to even acknowledge part of the debate isn’t the answer.

 

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

— Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

 

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Clovis Media Inc. He can be contacted at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by email:
kwilson@cnjonline.com