Under The Guise of Reporting
by Linda Bowles

July 28, 1999

Before we relegate the news story of the deaths of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, Carolyn, and her sister Lauren Bessette to the archives, there is much we can learn from it. The way this tragic story was handled tells us a great deal about the media, our culture, our politics and ourselves.

If the importance of a news event can be measured by the volume of coverage, this particular story was of monumental historic significance. However, this was a story of the deaths of three young people who were closely connected to a well-known family. This was a tragedy, and it was heart- wrenching, but it was not of historic importance. Kennedy's death became a platform for political propaganda. It was seized upon as an opportunity to hype the Kennedy mythology.

Under the guise of reporting, we heard media personalities delivering eloquent testimonials to their ideological icons. It is obvious that Kennedy worship has become a surrogate religion for many in the secular media. The core faith is this: President John Kennedy walked on water, and begot a son who was born to walk among us for a while -- and eventually, rescue us from the clutches of evil conservative Republicans. No evangelist on the street corner ever shouted his message with more fervor than have the media in recent days and weeks.

A large number of Americans were offended by assertions that the Kennedys are "American royalty." It is unseemly for members of the media to project their own elitism and hero worship upon the rest of us. Let the word go forth from this time and place that the Kennedys may be Democrat royalty, but they are not American royalty.

Likewise, the frequently presented idea that the Kennedys are "America's family" and that we are all members of that family is not only a liberal delusion but a grossly offensive one. The titular head of that family is Edward "Ted" Kennedy, and the idea that I am related to him in any way ought to be, if it is not, grounds for a defamation lawsuit.

Until recently, I did not know it was a mission of the news media, particularly the television news media, to feed us blarney, foster myths, promote the development of cults, exploit human tragedy to improve ratings, and entertain us with long wallows in the personal misery of other people. I have always subscribed to that old credo that it is the mission of the news media to give light so the people can find their way.

If the people can see clearly what is going on around them, they are prepared to make good choices. But if, instead of light, the people are immersed in a fog of propaganda and disinformation, they will lose their way. In a world of spin and deception, we need to remind ourselves that there is an objective reality -- one that exists outside our beliefs, biases and perceptions. The world is what it is, independent of what we think.

The further we mentally stray from that objective reality, the closer we come to irrationality or even insanity, defined as a lost of contact with the way things really are. In recent years, the expanded media has discovered that it can pounce upon certain current events and hype them into major "happenings." It has been sad to watch so many Americans transformed into obsessive voyeurs who visually feed on the intimate details and miseries of others. It has been sad to watch an exploitative media prepare the visual feasts.

We have become a nation of surrogate sins and vicarious pleasures, and what is worse, allowed ourselves to become convinced it is all harmless. People who would not think of invading someone's privacy, particularly in the midst of personal grief and loss, think nothing of letting the media do it for them. Our celebrity culture also reflects legions of lost people seeking to fill a spiritual void in themselves. They crowd to their churches for comfort, but not for guidance. Theirs is a hopeless, earth-bound search for salvation. They are looking in all the wrong places. Human idols die; they do not provide coattails to eternity.

When someone young dies, we have the sense that something has gone wrong, some agreement breached. There is no closure; there are loose ends, unresolved issues, aborted ambitions and unfulfilled promises. It isn't fair, or it just doesn't make sense.

But the story of our lives is not fully told in the span of a lifetime. It is worked out in the framework of eternity, where all is resolved and where everything makes perfect sense -- just as He promised.


Linda Bowles' 'take no prisoners' attitude has made her one of the few conservative women columnists in America with a large readership. She formerly managed Bowles Associates consulting firm, and has written speeches and been a researcher.


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3 August 1999