Dear Marketplace Friend,
Sooo... here's one of those "truth is stranger than fiction" stories: Pope Benedict XVI (we'll just refer to him as "the Pope") delivered an academic address at his alma mater, in which he cited an historic reference to Islam that noted Mohammed's teachings and actions as "evil and inhuman" when advocating violence in the advancement of his religion. The result? Immediate reactions from Muslims. Threats of terrorist actions, burning of Catholic churches, a shot-in-the-back execution of a 65-year-old nun in Somalia. Apologize for calling us violent, or we'll be even more violent. News from the Vatican: he writes his own speeches sometimes, but in the future, his staff will be vetting his comments to avoid unnecessary controversy. Talk about a target-rich news item: if someone wanted to write a commentary on irony, does it get any better than that? Cheri would never let me take that on...
Not me, buckaroo. The Pope has the Swiss Guard to handle his security; the best I have is a gardener who walks around my front yard behind a mower for 30 minutes every week, and he's only packin' grass clippers. I have no plans to bad-mouth the faith system that is silent toward terrorists and shouts at speakers. Not me…
Here's one that's closer to home, for most of us. Hidden in the back pages of the daily coverage of the War on Terror, the Media Education Foundation gave the results of the study they commissioned on us. It's one thing to have Benedict talking about the bad guys... but, what about Nielsen Media Research talking about us "good guys?" The subject: the invasion of your home by the assault vehicle called "television."
What's new in the war for modern mindshare? How entrenched are the forces unleashed by the traditional networks, the cable cabal, and the satellite special forces? By the numbers...
• Fifty percent of homes in America have three or more television sets;
• In the average American home, the TV is on for seven hours and 40 minutes each day;
• The "average American" watches more than four hours of television per day;
• The "average American child" will spend more time this year in front of a television than in front of a classroom teacher (1,023 hours vs. 900 hours);
• Americans who can name the Three Stooges: 59%;
• Americans who can name three Supreme Court Justices: 17%.
Eleven years ago, I found myself in Bosnia the week before Christmas. The civil infighting that had decimated the country had just ended in a tense truce; the United Nations peacekeeping forces were on their way in, behind us. I was with Franklin Graham and Operation Christmas Child, delivering shoebox gifts to kids who had lived through the horrors of war.
We were in a Muslim community that had been shelled by Serbs, at a neighborhood school that was back in session. The children had received their gifts - along with the Christmas story - in the courtyard below; we were having coffee with the school's leaders, upstairs.
I asked the principal, through my interpreter, if she felt safe now that the UN troops were coming into position. She thought a moment... and then said, "Not really. They can't protect us from those..." She pointed out the window, toward the homes surrounding the school... and the satellite dishes next to every house. "Your American programming is now here. MTV is our next real enemy. Our children have no protection against your American media." Some of Muslim hatred of America is their reaction to our immoral invasion!
I won't forget that meeting; I'm usually the quick-witted wordsmith with a clever retort. Not that day. As an American, I was speechless. She was right; not only were those Bosnian Muslim children at risk... the kids back home in my neighborhood were equally vulnerable to the same attack.
Just between us, I think the Pope is right: Islam IS evil and inhuman when it promotes violence! He's right to speak up about that. But, at the same time, Sumner Redstone and Viacom - champion and purveyor of MTV's corruption - is evil and inhuman as well! Men and women who have integrity should speak up about that, as well. Do we really need to pretend that obviously-bad stuff is morally acceptable, just to be "safe?"