Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The agony of 'Agony'

Today, the Springfield News-Leader runs an editorial criticizing a recent front-page spread on the Missouri State men's basketball team's failure to reach the NCAA Tournament. The writer takes exception to the title of that story, "An Unbearable Agony":

I don't know what planet the News-Leader crew inhabits, but on my planet, the phrase "unbearable agony" is the kind of reactionary hyperbole that muddies up what should be a clear distinction between meaningful, necessary news, and variations of infotainment. A fan's reaction to a basketball team's tournament exclusion fails to qualify as "agony" unbearable or otherwise. Our illegal, immoral, unaffordable, and impeachment-worthy war, however, certainly fits the bill.

The huge headlines and bright pictures of a distressed young man headlining the March 12 front page could have been about the implications of his decision just dawning on a freshly recruited Army volunteer. ...

The writer of the editorial is Joan Collins, a member of the Peace Network of the Ozarks. The writer of the headline, who apparently lives on another planet, is me.

Given that she and I agree point-for-point about the Iraq war, I found this criticism particularly distressing. It's also unfortunately symptomatic of the way the anti-war camp often clashes with each other just as much as with White House policy.

Collins cites several points about the most pressing issues of the day, all of which are valid. The crux of her argument is that the newspaper should have devoted that day's front-page space to the catastrophe in Iraq rather than on college basketball. Short of that, she says, the headlines should at least offer a true sense of perspective about the magnitude of such events. Fair enough. However, I feel that her point could have been made just as well without the insinuation that I--and by extension the newspaper as a whole--are ignorant about world events.

If this "unbearable agony" story were about our country's 30,000 wounded, or our 117,000 severely traumatized, then the headline would fit the crime. To me, however, that headline reveals a disconnect between the world of human suffering that truly matters and the world of points in the paint that doesn't.

One charge often levied against hawkish conservatives is that they willfully choose to ignore or worsen domestic issues under the guise of, "We've got a war on terror to fight!" This sort of rhetoric, unfortunately, can also emanate from the left. Indeed, basketball does pale in comparison to the horrors of war--so does, say, a motorcycle accident with fatalities. That doesn't mean that a newspaper would run the headline, "Two killed in accident, which is nothing compared to today's fatalities in Iraq." Doing so would serve the twin purposes of diminishing the impact of the war and showing a callous lack of concern for those who died in the accident. Reporting on issues other than the war should in no way be seen as a trivialization of said war.

Of course, I agree that some media outlets--mostly on ratings-driven television--choose to highlight superfluous issues as a means of distraction. In the case of "An Unbearable Agony," however, the issue at hand involved the personal stories of local college athletes who missed the NCAA Tournament each year of their careers by mostly microscopic margins. Here in southwest Missouri, this was a popular and closely followed story, as it was for hundreds of other basketball teams throughout the country. And because many newspapers take a local angle with their stories, teammates' reactions to the snub seemed like a natural for that day's cover. Add to that the fact that Missouri State's mascot is the Bears, and that headline writing requires something short and snappy, and the result for me was, "An Unbearable Agony." The others on the copy desk felt that it was a worthy title, and so it made print without alteration.

Collins makes an excellent point by alleging that basketball is not comparable to the war in Iraq. On that note, I feel that she should not take my title as an affront to the urgency of world politics and war. Referring to the disappointments of a hard-working basketball team is not a dismissal of the Iraq war; it is simply a reference to the feelings of the players and fans. Nothing more, nothing less.

I care passionately about the Iraq war, having opposed its inception from the very beginning. I don't doubt that Collins and myself could have a very amiable dialogue about the need for a new set of priorities in Washington. And that's exactly my point; we need to direct the rhetorical fire where it really belongs: not against each other, but against those who need to do their part to rectify this tragedy.


Cajun Tiger said...

That has definitely been a problem on the left in uniting the different factions for a central purpose. The right historically has done a much better job at that. However, I think we saw a slight shift in that balance this last election. Hopefully that was just an anomaly and all will be back to normal next year ;)

Ian McGibboney said...

To use an analogy: my high school was basically a collection of gifted, special-education, arts academy and every other oddball group in town, as well as regular kids from an enormous and diverse swath of town. Consequently, it was hard to muster the same level of school spirit as the other five or six high schools (which were more concentrated in demographics, traits and beliefs). Winning didn't always come easily to us, and losing was often met with a shrug.

But when we did win something, be it an academic competition or a game, we really swept it and didn't let go.

Cajun Tiger said...

Here's to hoping your high school analogy stays a high school analogy =)

Anonymous said...

I see you're a military contractor, Cajun, so of course you want the war to continue.

Cajun Tiger said...

Anon...yeah you busted me...I'm an evil contractor who wants to continue to see people die just so I can get rich. Please get a life and a clue as you know absolutely nothing about me.

Ian McGibboney said...

Well, I won't judge you one way or the other, CT...but you did appear to keep that a secret for awhile. You did have people assuming you were a soldier, myself included. And you did voice an enthusiasm for returning to Iraq multiple times that's shared by few soldiers I know.

That's not meant to be a personal attack, CT; it's easy to infer those things from what you yourself say. And there's a lot of resentment going around because that's exactly how the White House comes off.

Cajun Tiger said...

I've never once implied or said I was in the military and anytime anyone wrongly assumed that, I quickly corrected them. The reason I was anonymous at first was b/c I was playing on the safe side of not knowing what I could and couldn't say or post when I was there. Definitely had nothing to do with deception.