The State of Our Confusion

| May 1, 2017 | 0 Comments

George Mitrovich

Renunciation of thinking is a declaration of spiritual bankruptcy.
Where there is no longer a conviction that men can get to know
the truth by their own thinking, skepticism begins.
— “Out of My Life and Thought” by Albert Schweitzer

The Syrian Government dropped sarin gas on its defenseless citizens and 80 of them died, including children.

We know this from smart phone recordings of the horrific scenes of men, women and children gasping for air – and finding none.

The world, with exception of Putin’s Russia, reacted with horror and condemned Syria’s Assad and his government for the use of chemical weapons.

The president of the United States, in meetings with China’s leader in Florida, was so upset by the graphic scenes, he ordered missile attacks upon select Syrian targets (but not before warning the Syrians and Russians missiles were coming).

Fifty-nine of the 60 missiles fired hit their targets, destroying air fields and older airplanes (thanks to the heads up, newer aircrafts had been moved from harm’s way).

The president’s perceived decisive action was widely praised, but upon further review, experts were troubled by the impulsive nature of his decision; a decision based upon watching the same video scenes we all witnessed – which he, as did we, found equally outrageous.

Writing in the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne wrote, “But one military strike does not make a foreign policy, and when you watch Trump speak on the subject, it’s hard to escape the sense that he has absolutely no idea what he’s doing.”

But my intent here is not about Trump, I am trumped out and if I never read another word about him, I would feel I’ve read enough to last several lifetimes, but my intent in this column is a different matter – the media malady of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and its consequences for all of us.

It is estimated that in the Syrian civil war, more than 400,000 have died, but suddenly the deaths of 80 people dominates front pages and lead network and cable news here at home.

But while that act of evil was taking place April 5, 144 Americans died of drug overdoses, but that didn’t make the front page or lead television/radio news; neither did the 96 who were killed that same day in automobile accidents.

Which means that while 87,496 men, women and children were dying from drug overdoses and car crashes in one year, newspapers and television/radio news went silent (not local media, but national media).

When Bill O’Reilly was fired by Fox News for too many assaults upon the dignity of women colleagues, his firing was front page news and lead the networks that night – two day later The New York Times, the world’s best newspaper, gave his dismissal three full pages in its business section.

I get that, that in our twisted world of values, of celebrity obsession and their elevation to deity status, that Mr. O’Reilly’s losing his job is thought a big deal.

But why?

Fox leads the cabal news ratings by a lot over MSNBC, but even on its best day, 320,700,000 million of us were not watching Bill O’Reilly, and more than that won’t watch Tucker Carlson, Mr. O’Reilly’s replacement.

Remember the Ebola crisis and the deadly threat it allegedly posed to America, so we were told 24/7 by media?

Yes, Ebola killed thousands in West Africa, a great tragedy, but in 2014, the year of its outbreak, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported three cases of Ebola in the US and one death – one.

But if you believed media, you went to bed fearful Ebola’s grim reaper was coming for you in the middle of the night.

What about the red measles scare of ’15, which became a huge media story when 39 people who had visited Disneyland, were diagnosed with the disease.

But, here’s the hard truth about red measles: Since 2000 only 10 people have died from it, says Forbes Magazine.

But 10 deaths in 15 years was not driving the story, Mickey Mouse and red measles were.

In 2015 I came down with a severe case of bronchitis, as did many of my friends, including former Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis and his wife, Kitty; so too, Richard Reeves, who teaches at USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism.

Reeves and I, friends of long standing (he had been national political correspondent for The New York Times and guest of The City Club of San Diego more than 24 times), agreed in a telephone conversation that virtually everyone we know, not an insignificant number – yes, true, as the French would say, men and women of a certain generation, but that’s irrelevant – had battled bronchitis in the winter of ‘15; but we also agreed, we had not read, heard, or seen, a single story about bronchitis – not in the greater of lesser Times (LA), not in the Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal, etc. Reeves and I thought it was an epidemic, but America’s newsrooms didn’t see it that way, because they hadn’t seen it, period.

And yet, since 2000, in the corresponding period when 10 died from red measles, 17,580 people have died from bronchitis.

Dr. Schweitzer, in his quote about truth, went on to write, “The mass of people remain skeptical. They lose all feeling for truth, and all sense of need for it as well, finding themselves quite comfortable in a life without thought, driven now here, now there, from one opinion to another.”

When the great man wrote that from Lambaréné in Africa, he could not have imaged the media world we live in today, the complexity of technology, the immediacy of everything; that we have arrived at a place where more than ever before stories are driven, not by the light of calm and reasoned reflection, but by media that drives us, “now here, now there,” with little effort to place events in a larger context – and by their saturation and even sensationalist coverage of one story, others of equal or greater significance are ignored.

“Truth is what you know at deadline,” is a favorite quote of Tom Clavin, another friend and distinguished biographer, but that “truth” may be perilous, because it may be error.

The Syrian gas attack and those who died was not in error, but weighed against everything else in our upside down world, should it have been the center of our attention?

I don’t think so.

It worries me greatly, that we respond to the story of the moment, because it’s there in front of our faces, but meanwhile other events are unfolding that require our attention, but slip by unnoticed and unaddressed.

There’s a famous Chinese proverb, “May you live in interesting times.”

Obviously we are. The question is, is it a blessing or a curse.

I’ll let you decide.

George Mitrovich is San Diego civic leader. He may be reached at

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