Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This One Will Not Be Funny

It's pretty rare that I use this blog to write about something that I am passionate about, something that is serious, something that I am not attempting to use humor to deal with.  This is just too horrible.

Last night, I flew home from Las Vegas and arrived in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport at 9:30.  Every last seat of the large plane was filled and so even though I had packed a carry-on sized bag, I had checked it.  As a result, my girls and I were standing at the baggage claim until 10:30 waiting for our luggage.  There is a large television screen mounted above the carousel, and despite the lateness of the hour, Anderson Cooper was broadcasting about the protests and government crackdown taking place in Libya. 

I hadn't seen anything remotely new related for a few days, and I was floored.  It was less than a month ago that the protests began in Egypt, and it seemed that the entire Middle East was rising up against the limited benefits of "stability" and demanding civil rights and democracy.  Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya and Bahrain, refusing to accept more decades of repression and tyranny.

However, Libya is not Egypt, and Mommar Qaddafi is not Hosni Mubarak, and the military and the police were using extreme force to put down the Libyan protests.  Qaddafi had shut down media outlets, and Anderson Cooper was getting what news he could through cell phone conversations with residents of the areas where the protests were happening.  There was no video of the caller, and in the airport there was also no sound: only stock film clips running under the closed captioning of the dialog.

One caller admitted to being frightened, and hiding inside, because the military were shooting any young people who were found outside.  At the same time, the caller felt that it was his obligation to take some risks in order to create a future for his country.  He was afraid to die, but he was also afraid to let the moment pass without forcing the regime to change.

Periodically, Cooper turned to in-studio experts to analyze what was happening in Libya, and the situation remained horrifying.  Qaddafi had called out helicopter gunboats and had ordered the military to fire and bomb his own citizens. The expert was appalled at this brutality, and felt that it showed how completely out of touch Qaddafi was with the political realities of his country.

When Cooper returned to the caller, something was happening that the caller couldn't explain.  All that I could glean from the closed captioning was a sense of utter chaos descending, and the caller's desperate belief that Qaddafi would rather kill every last Libyan rather than step down from power.  The caller began to plead, passionately and hopelessly "please, it is important that the media stop this.  Call President Obama, contact someone who can get Qaddafi to stop the killing, because he will not stop.  Please, do what you can to force him to stop killing people, because he would rather rule an empty country than give up his power.  Please do what you can to make this stop!"

And then, in a move that smacked of every cynical movie or novel I have ever seen, Anderson Cooper cut off the call and faced the camera, saying "What do you think about this situation?  The chat lines are open.  Call us or post your thoughts on the web site."

I literally could not believe it.  A profound human tragedy was taking place--live via cell phone connection--as a country tried to throw off a brutal dictator who had no qualms about gunning down his own population.  There was a desperate cry for help to stop the slaughter. . .and Anderson Cooper simply turned it into a call-in show and an internet chat topic.

Qaddafi has been dictator for some 40 years of a country that is trying to end the corrupt regime.  He has shown that he is willing to put down the protests in a brutal fashion.  Surely there was something more to do that to open up public chat.

I have become embarrassed by my country, and this elevation of television/internet audience protocols over actual information and assistance is something we should all be embarrassed by.

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