Dec 20 2012

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In the aftermath of the horror visited upon Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, I offered up the two things that were in my power to give – my prayers and my silence.

The intersection of modern technology and the obsession with ratings has created an electronic public square that delivers instantaneous and deeply intimate portraits of suffering and sorrow from virtually anywhere on earth.

I chose “silence” as a personal gift because, given the unimaginable carnage visited upon our most innocent and vulnerable at Newtown, there was an immediate, pile-on reflex that turned legitimate investigative journalism into an unseemly and devaluing exercise in rampant and at times tasteless voyeurism.

There will be no Pulitzer’s for this indelicate and coarse coverage.

In life there are events that shock the conscience and the soul. Newtown was such an event. These matters cry out for restraint, not sensationalism. For respect, not public spectacle.

For all the words used to fill up hours of air time in round-the-clock coverage, broadcast networks would have been equally well served to simply place a camera on the 26 Christmas Trees representing the dead, playing soft chamber music in the background.

Let us take time to contemplate and reflect. To find meaning and connection.

It is not that the Newtown story wasn’t newsworthy. Far from it.  As Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson writes, it is simply human predisposition to try and regain control of lurching events by explaining them.

But the rush to cover both the deeply personal and inane, to level judgements without context, and above all, to immediately link the catastrophe at Newtown to broader issues of public policy, with the unsurprising and stale partisan screeds that accompany it, robs Newtown of its tangible significance- innocent lives, barely begun, arbitrarily taken in an act of unspeakable carnage.

This is not about what happens in Washington or state capitals in months to come. It is first and foremost about a community, shattered and stunned, that will have to live not only with death and loss, but also with the trauma of survival and living. To recalibrate a community understanding of trust and safety.

Newtown isn’t a reality show. It is reality. As such, it begs for a public focus, grounded in compassion, humility and above all, respect. To allow Newtown to bury its dead and to mourn in peace, and to eventually find the will to move on.

Politics can wait. It will be there.

It is always there.

Using a profound tragedy so immediately for ratings or policy should be beneath our dignity as a nation. Its presence only confirms the increasingly hollowness of our public square, to our collective detriment.


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