A misguided media frenzy

A MISGUIDED MEDIA FRENZY…. The benefits of the modern, global, electronic media are too many to even list, but there are occasional downsides.

Take Terry Jones, for example. For most of the world, the name, up until very recently, had no significance. For some of us, it’s a reminder of one of the geniuses from Monty Python. Even in Jones’ hometown of Gainesville, Florida, he’s an obscure freak — the inconsequential pastor of a tiny right-wing congregation that can’t pay its mortgage.

Ordinarily, Jones would be celebrated by the few dozen nuts who enjoy his sermons, and live out his days in anonymity. His insane scheme to burn Qurans on the anniversary of 9/11 would be of interest to the local fire department, but of no one else.

But modern media can turn obscure lunatics into international figures with surprising ease. Howard Kurtz argues persuasively this morning that this “story,” such as it is, is being “substantially overplayed, with potentially dangerous consequences.”

The first national report I found was carried by Religious News Service on July 21. On Aug. 26, the New York Times reported that Jones planned to hold a bonfire of Korans because, he said, it is “full of lies.” The story ran on Page 14. Not much happened.

But the story continued to bubble. On Monday, ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “World News” aired pieces on the controversy. On Tuesday, David Petraeus said in a statement the Gainesville stunt could endanger American troops. That lit the fuse. The story exploded, especially on cable. […]

On “NBC Nightly News” last night, Petraeus said: “Our concern, Brian, is that such an act would jeopardize the safety of our soldiers and our civilians, even of our Afghan partners because it’s the police and soldiers of the Afghan forces who would have to confront the kind of demonstrations that we’re afraid would erupt in the wake of such an action.”

Fair enough; the question had to be asked. But should MSNBC have provided live coverage of Jones’s rambling remarks at his church yesterday afternoon?

Put me down for a “no.”

Kurtz added that the media’s “combined megaphone has made it into an international story.” It has, indeed. World officials — from the White House to the Vatican to NATO — have all weighed in on the ridiculous antics of this fringe madman, because news of Jones’ plan has garnered excessive attention. It’s tempting to think leaders could ignore the nonsense, but responsible international officials feel the need to let the global public know that they find his actions disgusting.

It’s reached the point that the FBI fears violent retaliation in response to the book-burning event.

This really isn’t healthy.