Immediate Post 9/11 Counsel to Students
My dear students and fellow human beings:
Medical students study not only medicine and
its various specialties; with their professors they criticize
the state of the art and thus try to improve the profession when
they join its ranks; the same with lawyers in a good law school.
If we study the media, it is not just because we would like to
have a job someday in one of its many departments, from PR and
product promotion to feature film production and elite editorial
writing, but because we want to see it in all of its warts as
well, in the hope that when a new generation takes over, they
will not simply repeat the mistakes of the past.
The media are the principal vehicles of our
mass culture in entertainment, sports, religion, and politics.
Just as a professor of literature looks with a cold if appreciative
eye at both the classics and new novels and plays in the hope
of making students sensitive to their subtleties and critical
of their excesses and sentimentalities, so we, who look at the
news business and the opinon mongers, seek to separate the wheat
from the chaff, and develope in our students a sense of discernment,
of sophistication. This does not just mean seeing through rhetoric
and sham but also holding up ideals of truth, justice, fairness,
and competence against the actual practices of the media.
The extraordinary events of the past week
bring special acid to the test for media performance. Are we
presented with a reality as it is or are we handed cliches within
which to package for ourselves the new and terrible into hackneyed
formulae for predictable melodrama, easy sentimentality, and
If you are in my Dissent class, then you should
look to see how these presentations may be instruments of disinformation
and sentimental stifling of thoughtful analysis of the meaning
of the horror and evil. If you are in my Mass Opinion class,
then the views expressed by politicians and pundits and the polls
presented in the media which tell us what we are thinking or
are expected to think, should be analysed accoridng to the Smith-Bruner-White
paradigm and the others suggested by the first and third chapters
of APO and especially by Peter's trenchant comparison of what
people really think with what they are told others are thinking
(third person factor) and the spectacle/deliberation aspects
of public opinion.
If you are in the graduate course on Law and
Communication, you should see how crisis constricts freedom and
is often used as an excuse for what Krugman calls political profiteering
(Mayor Guiliani roundly condemned the "gouging" of
merchants and con men who seek to use the tragedy as a chance
to exploit people's fears, idealism and generosity for their
own ends) using the events to push a selfish and partisan agenda
just as in WWII some businesses saw the war as a chance to make
huge profits while people were distracted by more grave concerns.
We will be reading articles and columns which
I feel raise questions that are often ignored in the compelling
drama of spectacular destruction and epidemic suffering. Read
and weep, but more important, read and think.