Media Matters

It's been a rough week out there.  The Boston Marathon bombing, the Senate defeat of the President's gun-control bill (okay, it wasn't technically his, but he reacted as if it were), the fertilizer plant explosion in West, TX (a town I didn't even know existed until it showed up in my mother's church's Facebook feed), the on-going trial of Kermit Gosnell for mass-murdering babies--all the subject of lots of commentary from the folks in the media (except, interestingly, the last).  I'm in the media (sort of).  Shouldn't I have something to say?

Well, maybe, but on what basis?  After all, like most of us, the only thing I know about any of these things is what I read in the papers (actually, online, mainly still at NRO, 'cause, you know, there are only so many hours in the day and I am supposed to be working on a book on medieval prayer), so what could I actually add to the conversation except more rampant speculation based on my own personal convictions about what people should and shouldn't be doing in the world?  Not that that stops many of the people who make their living in the media, particularly (yes, I'll add to the shaming) David Sirota, but I really prefer writing about things about which I have some actual experience, not just what I've learned from what others have said. 

Mind you, that wouldn't leave me much to say in the way of, say, medieval prayer, since what could I know about that except what others have written?  On the other hand, this probably explains my preferred methodology of commentary (a.k.a. exegesis): I might not know what people thought or did, but I do know what they wrote, so I can talk about that.  Oh, dear, I seem to be writing myself into a corner here.  How can I know anything other than what I experience or think?  One needs to be able to trust others in order to learn about the world, even Augustine knew that.  But how do I know whom to trust? 

Ah, yes, perhaps this is closer to the issue.  In the media, I don't, not really, not even my virtual buddies over at the NRO (they feel like buddies even though they never answer my emails; I've been reading their columns daily for nearly a year).  So, sure, I could leap in agreeing with them on this or that, but to what end?  Adding to the chorus so as simply to increase the volume?  Possibly, although I am not sure what help that would be, my voice being (relatively) so weak.  But nor do I want simply to be trading in indignation, because that doesn't help.  I do think occasionally that I should weigh in on some of the debates over education--it's my profession, after all.  But then I stall because I simply know so much.  Where to start?

I suppose the real issue is whether I am interested in being a pundit.  Sometimes I think that I am; certainly, I have colleagues who are.  But do I really want to take on that role in addition to teacher?  Thus far, I have had only a few brushes with the larger media, and they haven't necessarily gone well.  The larger media is a very distorting medium (to make a plural singular--can you do that?), but it is an important, if fickle one.  How can I hope to change people's minds about medieval prayer if I don't get up and shout as loud as I possibly can?  Round and round.  Am I just scared to try to say something louder?  That seems odd, as important as I think prayer is.  Am I scared of drawing attention to myself?  Again, really?  Me, who tells all in these pages precisely in the hope of getting attention (a.k.a. readers)? 

Perhaps it is that I am not terribly good at being a team player (I am a fencer, after all; I don't do teams) and want to write for myself, not this or that particular audience.  But that's silly.  No, it's snobbish.  No, it's just making excuses for not putting fingers to keyboard and writing.  No, 'cause I've been writing.  But it is something about audience: I am afraid of not getting one.  There, I think we are getting closer now.  What if I stuck my neck out, and nobody noticed?  None of the folks at the NRO seem to care what I think (okay, two of them, one of whom wrote about me a decade ago; you'd think he'd at least remember my name), and I tend to agree with them.  What if I wrote something that made people angry?  What if I couldn't, in fact, change their minds?

It's a perilous world out there, our mass media.  And not just to life and limb.


  1. I've noticed you, but I find about 75% of what you post to be odious. This is why I return: I don't understand why someone with your advantages -- intelligence, health, a supportive family, good income from meaningful work in a prestigious job -- is so astoundingly petty, envious, and self-pitying. I think you fascinate me because you provide access to a mentality that is genuinely foreign to me.

  2. Gee, thanks, PapaFreeak, you've made my day. I'll bet you're a big fan of Elizabeth Gilbert, too.


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