Mainstream News Media Madrassas
by Tony Palmeri
from the March 2013 issue of The SCENE
Last month former Los Angeles police officer and ex-Navy reservist Chris Dorner went on a shooting rampage that left four people dead. On the run outside LA, Dorner died from a gunshot self-inflicted after tactical police set fire to the cabin in which he hid. Police claims of the fire being accidental were contradicted by audio recordings of authorities sounding like a frenetic force in Waco mode.
But a sober reading of Dorner’s manifesto reveals not crazed rantings as much as what for him appears to be cold logic. He claims insider knowledge of continuing racism within an LAPD “not changed since the Rampart and Rodney King days,” describes in vivid detail his own whistleblowing activities that led to his dismissal, believes the courts provided no redress for his grievances, and rationalizes his reign of retribution as a “last resort” that will force a reexamination of his case and thus clear his name. He seeks revenge against all LAPD personnel who uphold the system as well as their families. (Indeed, the weapons retrieved after Dorner’s death included a Remington Model 700 rifle with the word “vengeance” inscribed above the butt.).
My question is this: where did Dorner get the idea that seeking vengeance against those who have committed real or imagined grievances against us is morally acceptable? Where did he get the idea that violent retribution is justifiable as a “last resort” against perceived enemies?
Of course there are no easy answers, but I think Dorner’s manifesto provides some unintentional clues. He appears to have been a heavy consumer of mainstream TV news media. We know this from the sheer number of TV journalists he mentions, as well as his keen awareness of current events. What effects might heavy mainstream news watching have on a young man who feels he was “terminated for telling the truth,” describes himself as “severely depressed,” and says the military reinforced the “honor, courage, and commitment” that was already “in my DNA”?
After 9/11 mainstream media pundits across the political spectrum explained to us with all their glib words of pseudo wisdom how terrorism was in part the result of young, angry, proud Muslim males being indoctrinated in religious schools called madrassas. In such schools, we were told repeatedly, angry young Muslims learn how to channel their frustrations into hatred for America. Instead of learning knowledge and skills that might move the Muslim world into the new millennium, the bitter young man is taught to wax nostalgic about the lost Golden Age of Islam and wage “jihad” against the evil West.
Dorner, like millions of Americans, unwittingly attended a different kind of madrassa; in the United States it’s called “mainstream news.” Take a look at who Dorner claimed to admire: “Chris Matthews, Joe Scarborough, Pat Harvey, Brian Williams, Soledad Obrien, Wolf Blitzer, Meredith Viera, Tavis Smiley, and Anderson Cooper, keep up the great work and follow Cronkite’s lead. I hold many of you in the same regard as Tom Brokaw and the late Peter Jennings.” With the exception of Tavis Smiley (who of course is the most marginalized of the group), these journalists offer mostly uncritical support for the propositions that the United States is primarily a force for good in the world, and that in fighting an evil enemy like al Qaeda the best we as journalists can do is question the wisdom of the tactics a Bush or an Obama use to vanquish them.
In an important 2009 study, Journalism scholars Stephen Reese and Seth Lewis demonstrated convincingly that mainstream journalists had “internalized” the Bush Administration’s framing of the War on Terror: “In addition to simply repeating the preferred terminology of the President, journalists reified the policy, treating it as an uncontested ‘thing,’ and naturalized it, suggesting they accepted its use as a way of describing a prevailing condition of modern life.”
Especially since 9/11, a heavy TV news consumer is fed a steady diet of a besieged, misunderstood America forced into war against a backward and evil enemy who knows no respect for human life or civilized values. The only dissent allowable for mainstream consumption is in the area of tactics: should Bush and Obama kill the bad guys with drones or with an invading army? Should Obama tell a panel of judges before he intends to kill an American citizen, or just kill him? Concerns with due process and international law, principles for which millions have died, become distant afterthoughts in the madrassa media drama while the Orwellian principle of “ignorance is strength” takes center stage.
We will never truly know what was in Chris Dorner’s mind as he set out on his deadly mission. Neither will we truly know what he learned from the madrassa media, but it sure wasn’t “love your enemies.”