The media as a mirror. Not a perfect one, but a reflection nonetheless.

What an interesting week this has been.  I am particularly thinking about the news coming from New York regarding Eliot Spitzer’s involvement with prostitution and other possible crimes, and in particular, the media’s coverage of the events surrounding it.

On Monday morning, news broke that New York Governor Eliot Spitzer had been identified as a customer of a prostitution network.  That same day, Spitzer held a news conference wherein he acknowledged, albeit in veiled terms, wrongdoing, and apologized to his family and his supporters.  He made no particular mention of his next steps aside from trying to “mend fences” with his family.  The media bulldog now had a new bone.  The coverage was nearly wall to wall.  They began to speculate not only on the crimes Spitzer had committed, but also the likely political outcome.  And this speculation dealt with not only his position as Governor, but also his status as a “Super Delegate” who had apparently already pledged support for Hillary Clinton.

Tuesday brought a day of clucking indignation that no announcements were being made that Spitzer would resign from office, although most seemed to think that was the eventual outcome.  The media paraded out both political and legal experts as the New York legislature promised (or threatened) to begin impeachment proceedings in 24 to 48 hours, if the Governor did not resign.  The psychologists were also trotted out to express opinions as to whether Spitzer suffered from some extreme form or narcissism or narcissism combined with self-loathing.  The conversations questioned whether he was so arrogant as to believe that he was “entitled” to such conduct, believing that he would not get caught, to the alternative that his behavior was really geared around a subconscious desire to be discovered and then punished.

Wednesday brought the anticipated resignation.  Spitzer once again acknowledged his wrongdoing, and explained that out of a sense of duty and nobility, he must hold his own conduct up against the standards that he had set for all others, as a prosecutor, Attorney General, and Governor.  And by that measure, he must step aside.  The media seemed relieved, although they continued to speculate on the alleged crimes committed and the possibility of prosecution of Spitzer for felonies.  And they continued the strum of speculation over what sort of psychological motivation drove Spitzer’s rise to power and prominence and his spectacular fall.

Then came Thursday.  What a contrast to Monday through Wednesday.  The identity of the particular prostitute linked to Spitzer became known.  She was no longer Kristen, her “professional” name, she was now Ashley Alexandra Dupre’.  A hopeful singer/songwriter who had, according to her own story, experienced a difficult youth, that included abuse, homelessness and drug use.  The media story on this day centered around the millions of hits that Ashley’s MySpace page had received (at the time of this writing, it was over 7 million) and the number of paid-for downloads of her song “What We Want.” The media almost seemed to revel in the speculation of how she might profit from her new-found notoriety with her music as well as her “story.”  It almost had a surreal sense of relief mixed with the joy of a silver lining to the dark cloud represented by Monday through Wednesday.  It was now a story of the villain getting his comeuppance and the victim being vindicated through fame and fortune.   A virtual storybook ending.

Some might argue, but I contend that the media, while they do exercise a considerable liberty, are a reflection of the consumers of the material they broadcast.  While they do have the ability to steer opinion, I believe that they are savvy enough to know (or at least anticipate) what their consumers want to be served.  With that as my hypothesis, I contend that we got exactly what we wanted in the way of coverage.  A villain and a victim.  And we wanted vilification and vindication.  But it seems to me that our desire for this outcome stems, at it core, from wrong motives.  And those motives are rooted in our own sense of self-righteousness.

Yes Spitzer’s acknowledged conduct and his alleged crimes are awful.  He broke not only God’s laws, but also the “laws of the land”, laws he was charged with upholding.  But the bottom line is that we are no better.  Our particular offenses may not be the same as Spitzer’s, but we have all failed to uphold God’s laws.  And on some level, we have probably all broken the laws of the land (speed limits anyone?).  We are all villains deserving our comeuppance.

And Ashley Alexandra Dupre’ is not really a victim in this case.  No, I am not arguing that prostitution is a “victimless crime”, because, in the vast majority of cases, I believe the women (and even men) are victimized by their pimps and their “johns.”  But I am not so sure in the case of Dupre’.  It seems that she has concluded that she is okay with her side job while she pursues her music career.  Almost like aspiring performers wait tables.  It does not appear that she was forced into prostitution by a heartless drug dealing pimp.  And if that becomes the storyline at some point in the future, then I apologize.  In the meantime, here is an excerpt from her MySpace page:

“I am all about my music, and my music is all about me… It flows from what I’ve been through, what I’ve seen and how I feel. I live in New York and am on top of the world.  Been here since 2004 and I love this city, I love my life here.”

“I made it. I’m still here and I love who I am.”

She loves who she is!  A fornicator, an adulteress, a home breaker.  She’s okay with it.  And,  I would contend that apart from the intervention of a holy God, we too are content with our deviant behavior.  In some unexplainable way, we too love who we are.  And consistent with my Reformed views, we would remain content and satisfied with our deviancy were it not for the breakthrough of Grace.

Our self-righteousness rises only to a level of perfection characterized by the moments (or seconds) that intervene between our last sin and the next.  Yet, we are satisfied when the people we perceive to be greater offenders than us get their just deserves, and we feel good when those who we perceive to be fellow “victims of our circumstances” come out on top.

We ought not revel in Spitzer’s fall, nor glory in Dupre’s’ apparent windfall.  For apart from the imputed righteousness of Christ, we deserve the former and and none of the later.

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One Response to The media as a mirror. Not a perfect one, but a reflection nonetheless.

  1. Brandon says:

    These are very discerning thoughts, Chuck. I completely agree that the media is a mirror of our culture. They wouldn’t post the stuff they do if billions of people weren’t reading it. They print what they do because we (I say “we” referring to the majority of American readers) salivate over it. And while we may argue that the media perpetuates such a mindset, humanity came before media. And the ones doing the reporting are humans themselves. This should be shocking, as articles about Britney Spears are much preferred over articles concerning world events.

    Good insight. Our only hope (BUT IT’S A SURE ONE!) is Christ.

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