March 23rd, 2005


Suddenly in the News

This started as a comment on someone else's LJ but I thought I'd expand here. I've been thinking about the Schiavo story and about a whole lot of other stories in the news over the years that engender lots of strong feelings of all kinds about the individuals involved. I'll mention a few I remember talking over and reading about at length:

Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky
O.J. Simpson's trial
The Baby M case
Jim Dale and the Boy Scouts

I think that when the people at the center of the story are public figures, our reaction to the story is informed, at least in part, by the impression we have of the people involved from before the story breaks. How someone felt about Bill Clinton as POTUS wasn't necessarily predictive of how s/he reacted to the Monica Lewinsky story, but it affected the reaction. OTOH with the Schiavo case, or Baby M, or Jim Dale, we don't really know anything about these people until their personal problems hit the courts and the front pages of our newspapers. Then we find out all about them as their personal lives become media fodder.

Of course, we don't really find out the truth about their personal lives, although we get a lot of information. Lots of what we find out is contradictory and just highlighting how slippery a concept truth is, particularly as applied to human motivations. And so we project our own beliefs, our own perspective, our own prejudices, our own Weltanschuuang onto the story in the news and the people who are players in it. What we think about Terry Schiavo or Baby M says more about our own values than it does about the people involved. And that's what makes discussing these issues so frustrating, often, but it's also what makes it so fascinating. I think it's particularly fascinating when we can see perspective changing, in ourselves or others.

An illustrative story from my childhood - I was 8 years old when JFK was killed. I saw Jack Ruby kill Oswald live on television (no delay back then). I followed the whole story carefully in the news. Of course there were many theories then about why he did it, and many, many people thought that he killed Oswald to prevent him from talking. Ruby, as I'm sure USAmerican readers will know, maintained that he was driven solely by outrage at Oswald's crime. As a small child I was just flabbergasted that anyone didn't believe him. We were all outraged, I thought. He just happened to be outraged with a gun in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As a cynical teenager and young adult I laughed looking back at my 8-year-old self and my naivete. I firmly believed that Jack Ruby was a cog in a big conspiracy and that he was somehow being paid off (or someone he cared about was) for his crime. I was quite sure that nobody kills because they are outraged that the POTUS was killed, that people do things for very personal reasons and not to avenge the death of someone they don't know.

Well, here I am approaching 50 and I'm back to where I was at 8. Jack Ruby died in prison, as we all know. No relatives of his got suddenly rich, no benefits accrued to him. He never changed his story, and I, for one, believe him. It's still a puzzle to me ("Now a man could spend a lot of time thinking what was on Jack Ruby's mind") but it seems the only explanation that fits the facts. The facts never changed; I did.
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