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Rev. Barbara Kaufmann

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When the Empire Strikes, Will the People Strike Back?

Posted: 07/18/11 11:35 AM ET

If I were keeping score in the epic battle of good versus evil on this planet, I would calculate the events of last week thus: Light- one; Darkness- zero. Everybody senses that there is more at stake in the Murdoch affair than the management of newspapers and a "naughty" media-gone-wild. Everybody is right. It's our humanity that's at stake. Score one last week for human dignity and for treachery -- zero. We intuitively know that pirating someone's private information in order to carve them up on the front page is more than a little wrong.

This epic battle being waged currently on the global modern-day stage is not a new one; what is ironic though, is that it has surfaced within the industry that represents us to us. It's the same media that so often captures that battle in film or brings it into our living rooms courtesy of TV. The archetypal theme is well documented in history, is very familiar and is played out over and over in media itself and cinematically in a theater near you. The modern version of this epic good v. evil keeps returning -- seen in its modern version in Harry Potter, James Cameron's Avatar, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and poignantly in an eerily clairvoyant film from the seventies called Network about media struggles for ratings and a network that will do anything to get them.

Network is a movie worth renting and revisiting. The heroes are the people (culture) who at the behest of a newsman-turned-evangelist (savior figure) get up from their chairs (complacency) and go the windows (public forum) and yell "I'm as mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore."

That precise scenario played out over Twitter, Facebook, the Internet and mainstream media with hurricane fury last week. The Twitter storm was a result of a perfect storm of events that came together to create a climate where people felt empowered and motivated to speak out because they are filled up on treachery (anything goes on the airwaves and in print) and apparently want the paradigm to change.

When we watch stories play out, we intuitively know who the villains are and we applaud the heroes that swoop in to sweep the darkness away for us. The same is true in this story. What ultimately happens in this saga and the outcome will be a vote for human dignity, decency and civility -- or it won't. It will end bullying by a media that has grown to become the biggest offender on the global block, or it will by default, invite public bullying to become even more entrenched and more powerful in the culture of the twenty first century. Humanity always writes its own legacy and often its destiny.

The railing was against Rupert Murdoch's News Corp -- a $33 billion industry with a long reach. Holdings are worldwide and include Europe and the U.K with The Times, the Sunday Times, The Sun, e Financial News, The Times Literary Supplement, The Wall Street Journal Europe and the recently sacrificed News of the World; in the U.S. holdings include The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Barrons, Community News Group, Dow Jones Local Media Group, and Seven News Information Services; Asia claims The Wall Street Journal Asia; and in Australia includes The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, The Herald Sun, The Advertiser and 150 others. And that's just Murdoch's media empire. Other holdings include 10 film companies including Twentieth Century Fox; Fox News, Fox Cable, Fox News and 27 Fox outlets; National Geographic International; from 25 to 39 percent of 3 Satellite TV markets; Harper Collins publishers U.S. and India; News Corp Digital Media which includes My Space and IGN Entertainment.

That's a lot of money, a lot of power, but more importantly, it's a lot of influence. Especially when that influence is used to hack into people's private phone messages, emails and medical records -- to use that private information to write salacious and sensational stories about peoples' lives and troubles. These stories, then, are offered up to the public as fact, not as a public service -- but in the guise of "newsworthy" simply, cynically, and only to sell newspapers. And in tabloid journalism, the truth has never been allowed to interfere with a good story.

Media -- the very venue that could have been a bastion standing for democracy and truth has become its worst offender. Some media, reminiscent of mafia, dominates the culture and cultivates a them-against-us mentality. It could just as easily encourage unity. People sensed the wrongness of hacking, of fostering a society of deceit, and the mercenary splaying of private lives and private information for sport on front. People were as mad as hell and it sounds like they don't want to take it anymore. Score one for humanity.

Murdoch, who inherited his business from his father in his homeland Australia, imported his brand of journalism to Britain beginning the rein of the tabloids. "Fleet Street" boasted about choosing the Prime Minister for the English public and even a wife for Prince Charles by asking in big headlines: "Charles why haven't you popped the question to Diana?" The sardonic and cynical tone and the tactics of tabloid journalism were cultivated and encouraged by Murdoch himself according to former tabloid journalists become biographers in tell all confession books like Yellow Journalism, Tabloid Baby, Tabloid Prodigy and revealed in programs like Frontline.

The financial success of the tabloid press did not go unnoticed by competitors and initial resentment turned to copycat tactics and junk journalism in Britain and then America. It ultimately leaked its way into, and contaminated, mainstream media. This tabloid turn toward making public figures fair game became traditional during the Clinton tenure in the White House. Dirty laundry trumped the news and essentially became the news. News anchor Walter Cronkite, called 'the most trusted man in America,' warned of what he saw as "the loss of journalistic integrity" and the death of an icon came to represent to many, the end of a noble era.

This ancient battle revisited has all the makings of a modern revolution. Will it come to that? It depends on humans and collective human consciousness. It depends on whether the race is ready to evolve. It depends on whether we have had enough of powerful people deliberately and cynically pandering to our darkest impulses rather than our brightest inspirations. It depends on whether the recent incendiary, spontaneous, passionate revulsion and desire for change was just a temporary flash of insight that will die down quickly (some in media are hoping it will) or whether the human race is truly ready to take a step to move the race forward.

Until last week, it seemed that the public might be forever at the mercy of a system that existed only to feed its own machine. The industry serves up information and people to a public it claims is hungry for this kind of information and "entertainment." But which came first -- the chicken or the egg? Allowing the fox to explain chicken to chickens is either stupid or incestuous or both. Is it really human nature for humanity to salivate over its own degradation? Or did the media create and cultivate a climate for darkness and then serve it up to the masses? In a defense for the irresponsible use of the first amendment, we often hear the excuse "but if the public didn't clamor for this stuff, there wouldn't be a market for it! We are only giving the people what they want!"

That's the same argument used by tobacco companies trying to convince a public that it was only providing a product the public wanted all the while researching and employing methods to get consumers addicted to something that their own research showed would kill them. The fact that the product killed their consumers did nothing to raise the standards of the industry; it prompted more seductive marketing strategies in order to replace the self-extinguishing users with new subscribers.

Predictably, Murdoch and media think tanks will hope that this all dies down and goes away or will pray that our attention span is so short that we will all soon get back to business as usual. The American media will try to ignore the story as it grows to engulf more and more of the industry and the world. Some guilty themselves of tabloidization in their work will, of course, try to distance themselves from the scandal. Some will lose interest. Others will hide, cover or disguise themselves to hide the egg conspicuously decorating their face.

But if we all go back to business as usual, our humanity takes a step backward. So who will subdue this looming Goliath of darkness; who will be our hero? Who will demand that we turn toward the Light? Maybe it's us. Maybe we are the ones we have been waiting for? It's our world. It's our minds that are being used as dumpsters. Are you sick of it yet? Retreating to the recliner and the remote is not going to solve the problem. It's not going to push the race forward or make the world a better place. If you're really not going to take it anymore you have to become your own hero -- get up from the chair of complacency and use your voice. Tell them you're 'mad as hell and you're not going to take it anymore.'