Friday, September 10, 2010
Notes on Politics: The Would-Be Book-Burning Pastor & 'Morning Joe'
I usually have the tiny TV in my kitchen tuned to MSNBC’s Morning Joe as I read the morning newspapers, guzzle down cups of coffee and help the kids get off to school on time on weekday mornings. I love the thoughtful, honest back-and-forth, the appreciation for varying viewpoints and for the fact that people aren’t stock characters right out of Hollywood’s Central Casting, that if you’re a Republican, you always think X or if you’re a Democrat, you always think Y and neither the twain shall meet.
Which is why this morning when I heard that they were going to interview the Florida clergyman who made international headlines by saying he was going to burn Korans on September 11, I was surprised.
Then my surprise morphed into something else after I watched the segment.
Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski introduced Pastor Terry Jones on live TV, then told him that journalist and former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham had a “message” for him. Meacham then proceeded to lecture Jones on the teachings of Jesus and about forgiveness and asked him, one Christian to another, to not burn the Korans. “The course you suggested is going to be incredibly dangerous and [I] would ask you to desist in the name of New Testament theology,” Meacham said.
At which point, Brzezinski replied, “Pastor Terry Jones, we appeal to you to listen to that, and we don’t really need to hear anything else, so thanks.” Then the satellite feed to Jones was taken off screen and the panelists discussed the matter without him.
Some people think this was a good way to “marginalize a media whore,” but I don’t.
Morning Joe's raison d'être is providing analysis on news, politics and culture, conducting interviews and asserting learned, sometimes passionate opinions while trying to fight their way through a thicket of ideas and ideologies to get to some semblance of truth. But inviting a person on your program under the guise of interviewing him, lecturing him then shutting off the camera was too far over the line for me. It felt wrong. It felt unfair and if there’s one thing that Morning Joe usually isn’t is unfair.
If you think the nutty pastor with a flock of a few dozen is damaging the country, is threatening to do something vile and is getting a disproportionate level of international media attention (far too much if you ask me), then you have two choices from an ethical standpoint: Either refuse to give him airtime and attention or give him airtime but pummel him with pointed, yet fair questions and allow him to do the damage to himself.
I don’t like what this pastor wanted to do – or what the Drudge Report is saying other unhinged so-called pastors and other people are planning to do tomorrow at various locations – and don’t see how it’s an answer or solution to anything. It certainly isn’t an apt memoriam for those who were killed by terrorists on September 11.
But what I saw on Morning Joe this morning really bothered me, as a journalist and as a Morning Joe fan.
Morning Joe coverage this morning notwithstanding, what do you think of the way the media has handled this story?