Until this week, the best known Terry Jones was the Monty Python member. Now an equally madcap Terry Jones, a disgraced pastor in Florida, may have overtaken the wacky-on-purpose Python, thanks to the American media.
Yesterday he reached the heights of celebrity, now already past the usual 15-minute limit, by playing the media like fools, announcing his decision to cancel the burning of Korans, citing a non-existent "deal" on moving the "ground zero mosque," then recanting when the fantasy deal disappeared. It was the ultimate Silly Walk.
Now the media self-analysis and mini-culpas have started to arrive. Here’s a fair selection, with more added at the top as the day goes on.
Michael Calderone, Yahoo!: "MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ had Jones on from Gainesville. But the ‘interview’ exemplified just how strange the Jones story has gotten. The press is simultaneously attracted to the controversy (and the ratings and pageviews that media executives can count on it to generate) and repelled by the idea of giving the pastor more publicity — so as a result, co-host Mika Brzezinski had Jones on screen but didn’t let him speak."
Howard Kurtz, Washington Post: "This whole thing was covered like the Balloon Boy hoax, but with potentially deadly consequences….Why does the world need to follow the antics of one obscure book-burner in Florida? You can say we’re just covering the story, but our combined megaphone has made it into an international story. And this isn’t like over-covering Lindsay Lohan’s jail sentence. This is a tinderbox right now."
Rick Perlstein, The New York Times: "The problem is that elite media gatekeepers have abandoned their moral mandate to stigmatize uncivil discourse. Instead, too many outlets reward it. In fact, it is an ironic token of the ideological confusions of our age that they do so in the service of upholding what they understand to be a cornerstone of civility: the notion that every public question must be framed in terms of two equal and opposite positions, the "liberal" one and the "conservative" one, each to be afforded equal dignity, respect — and (the more crucial currency) equal space. This has made the most mainstream of media outlets comically easy marks for those actively working to push public discourse to extremes."
Jeremy Scahill of The Nation tweets this advice to reporters attending the Obama press conference today: "There are so many pressing questions Pres. Obama should be asked. Don’t waste one second on Pastor’ Handlebar Mustache.”
Alan Wolfe, historian: "Publicity may be what extremists crave but it is also the best defense against extremism. No society can rid itself of those who burn with hatred. A wise society will give them the space to burn themselves out. When the ashes cool, we will recognize that although Jones thought he was using the media and commanding the attention of the powerful, they were at the same time using him."
Chris Cuomo, ABC News anchor: “I am in the media, but think media gave life to this Florida burning … and that was reckless.”
Justin Elliott, Salon: "Critics of the American media’s coverage of the Quran-burning saga are loud and plentiful, and they have a strong case. In short, the U.S. media has given a global platform to a fringe pastor with a tiny flock, elevating him to a level of significance that would make most members of Congress jealous (whether or not he actually executes his plan). But those media critics are also missing the point. To grasp the real story here, one has to understand the context in which Petraeus decided to weigh in: At that time, the Quran burning had already been treated as a major story in the media in the Muslim world for several weeks."
Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic: "We live in an era of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism, exploited, used and manipulated by politicians, for their own purposes, and used by the media for its own. This has always been a dangerous and toxic combination, inimical to liberal society, dangerous to secular democratic politics, and today, something that can also lead to global warfare and destruction on an unimaginable scale."
Brian Stelter, The New York Times, with excellent background, plus: "On Thursday, President Obama condemned Mr. Jones’s plan, and his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said that there were ‘more people at his press conferences than listen to his sermons,’ in a bit of media criticism."