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Tonight my wife and I watched a DVD about Edward R. Murrow, the CBS reporter who took on the anti communist scare of Senator McCarthy of Wisconsin. The movie Good Night, and Good Luck brought up questions from the 50’s about the role of TV that are important today. This quote from a speech Murrow gave to the Radio and Television News Directors Association in 1958 sadly rings true today:
“Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, and in color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.”
A line from a song rings in my ears “When will They Ever Learn”? For the most part mass media is still “used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us”.
The last few days I have been thinking of mistakes made in the treatment of my deceased son Peter from his brain disease or mental illnesses. Major mistakes were made by the agency that was treating Peter as well as some made by my son and by me. I talked to my wife at dinner tonight about these mistakes. She questioned why I was dwelling on them, especially the ones made by the agency. She said there was enough blame to go around. My response was that I was not blaming anyone but felt compelled to learn from mistakes and only recently have the courage to face these mistakes.
If we had learned the dangers encountered by the fear of communism in the 50’s perhaps we would not being making the same mistakes today with the fear of terrorism. In many of the works of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk spiritual writer, he talks of the fear of communism in those days and the harm it did. One can take the word ‘terrorism’ and substitute it for the word ‘communism’ and the same warnings would be true today.
When I was young a line from a poet was important to me: “Man is made to make mistakes”. As I get older I realize that this statement is incomplete. Yes we must make mistake but also we must learn from our mistakes or be doomed, as they say, to repeat them. It is true about dealing with the media, issues of war and peace and personal relationships. With Pete Seeger in the song “Where will all the flowers gone?” we need to say “When will they ever learn”?