For Christians around the world, Easter is a time for hope, for forgiveness, for renewed expectations and new beginnings. It seems to me that is exactly what we need right now in our community, in our state and in our nation.
Over the past few weeks, we have seen our Governor resign in disgrace. We've listened to our new Governor admit that he and his wife had extramarital affairs. The media was and is working overtime to exploit every sordid detail in the new Governor's personal life. Barack Obama is being unfairly attacked because of the comments of his pastor. Hillary Clinton is being attacked for allegedly using the race card in her campaign. Senator John McCain is being characterized as a warmonger and a hothead.
In one of my sociology classes, a student asked why the leadership pool seemed so depleted in recent times. I asked students what they thought. Their responses were interesting and also insightful. Many students suggested that the brightest and most talented of our nation are probably reluctant to enter public service. This is most likely due to the intense scrutiny the press and media give anyone considering public service.
Unfortunately, there are no boundaries with the press and media. They seem to lack any respect for the privacy of people's live and their families. Should Governor Spitzer's antics have been brought to light? Absolutely, because there seems to be a clear violation of the law and a breach of public trust. However, should his wife and three daughters be pictured on the front page of every newspaper in America? I would suspect not. But, the press feels it's okay to exploit people for the sake of selling papers and improving ratings. Mrs. Spitzer and her children did not break the law or breach the public's trust.
Our new Governor and his wife felt compelled to disclose personal information about their infidelities, knowing that if they didn't, the media would have dug them up and exposed them anyway. His personal infidelities should be between him and his God, if he believes, and not fodder for the press and media. The press and media continue to be obsessed with the new Governor's personal life. How unfair to him, his wife, his children and their extended family. Before the man is even given a chance to govern, his path is being obstructed with nonsense.
Clearly, most of us want those who lead us to be men and women of character and integrity. We want them to be role models for our children. We want them to be people we can look up to. I am not suggesting that we excuse marital infidelity or other forms of moral relapse. However, I think we need to set certain standards and boundaries that the press and the media should not cross. We must hold them accountable and not allow them to destroy and exploit people for the sake of selling newspapers and improving ratings.
By our silence and our indifference, we have given the media and the press too much power and influence. In the movie, "Newsies," there is a great scene where the powerful publisher of a New York City paper in the 1920's is meeting with a teenager who has organized the city's paperboys. The publisher rather pointedly says to the teenage leader, "I control what people think and what they feel."
Think about that statement for a moment. There is probably more truth in that statement then we are willing to acknowledge. The media does influence a lot of what we think and feel. Too often, their slant signs, seals and delivers a particular perspective, whether it's right or wrong, or fairly presented.
In recent times, there have been some disturbing revelations about some of our former heroes and their indiscretions. People like FDR, General Eisenhower, Present Kennedy and his brother, Bobby, to name a few. The press and media were allegedly aware of their indiscretions, but decided it was not in the public's best interest to disclose or exploit these troubling personal and private choices.
It seems to me that we need to challenge the press and the media to develop a new code of ethics that respects the person in both the private and the public sector. People who choose to serve us in public life should not have to fear that every private misstep in their past is going to find its' way to the front page of our newspapers or become a lead story on the evening news. Clearly, the personal struggles of one's spouse and children should never be exploited.
The press and the media should report the truth. They should not make up the truth, take it out of context and manipulate it to support their own editorial perspective. Rather, they should present the unaltered facts in an accurate context. Most of us are capable of drawing our own conclusions, when given accurate information.
In no way am I suggesting that we limit a person's freedom of speech. That is one of our great rights guaranteed to each of us by our Constitution. However, the freedom to express ourselves does not give us the license to slander another or exploit another's private and personal life.
Recently, the press reported that over two hundred high school students walked out of class to protest the alleged firing of young teachers to bridge a budget deficit. The students had the courage to make a statement because their education is important to them. The response of the school district's administration was to give the students who did not return to class detention. It is correct that when we choose to speak out, or in the case of the students, walk out, there are consequences for those choices. The students should be held accountable. However, I think that was a teachable moment, where the consequence could have been a learning experience and not merely a punishment. Unfortunately, it was a missed opportunity for all involved.
In the summer of 2006, we were all shocked by the disturbing death of a teenager from a North Shore community. It was a tragedy that could have been avoided and one that has literally destroyed two families and left them scarred forever. Countless people have been polarized in our larger community. That tragedy was caused by fear and a series of bad choices on the part of all involved.
Unfortunately, we cannot change the past and what caused the senseless loss of life and the destruction of two families. What we can do is effect the present and change the future. However, to do that, we have to let go of our anger, resentment and our tendency to blame and point the finger. All involved in the events that led to that tragic night and the death of that teenager, never intended for anyone to be hurt or killed.
The painful facts: a number of people on that dreadful evening made a series of poor choices. None of those choices were driven by malice on either end of the equation, but rather by fear and anger.
The judge who passed the sentence said some very powerful things. She challenged all of us, whether we knew the families involved or not, to revisit our own moral compass. Her statements suggested that our moral compass needs to be adjusted. She offered us all a lot of food for thought.
My fear is that her comments will get lost in people's anger and will only fuel the already existing hostility. In many ways, it's easy to make the Miller Place tragedy an issue around race and hatred, when it's really about fear and a series of poor choices that ultimately took a life senselessly and left two families shattered forever.
The challenge for all of us is not to be distracted and manipulated by the issues of race and hatred, but rather to see this as an opportunity to refocus our moral compass and learn from this tragedy that we cannot let fear and anger control us.
Springtime and Easter are about new beginnings - so let us begin...
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