Week In News: Quran Burning, Sept. 11 Anniversary
GUY RAZ, host:
We're back with All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
President BARACK OBAMA: Just as we condemn intolerance and extremism abroad, so will we stay true to our traditions here at home as a diverse and tolerant nation.
RAZ: President Obama at a memorial service outside the Pentagon this morning, marking the attacks of September 11, 2001.
James Fallows is with me now, as he is most Saturdays, for a look at some of the ideas behind the headlines.
Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (National Correspondent, The Atlantic): Hello, Guy. Nice to talk to you.
RAZ: Obviously, Jim, President Obama's quote that we just heard, I think, was alluding to some of the recent controversies over the issue of, you know, whether to build an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero or mosques in certain places in the country and then, of course, all this international attention paid to a fringe pastor at a tiny church in Gainesville, Florida.
Mr. FALLOWS: Indeed. And let me suggest a possibly positive outcome of some of the events of the last week, which have been disruptive and negative in many ways, which is that I think that what we seen, in a way, is a version of something that's happened in local TV news.
Over the last generation, TV news producers have discovered if they have a tornado, if they have a car crash, they have some violent crime, viewers will stay with them, which makes citizens feel more afraid than, objectively, they need to about the world around them.
I think something similar may be true here. In a nation this big, on any given day, you're going to have some anti-Islamic protest and anti-black and anti-Jewish and whatever you want.
Mr. FALLOWS: There's going to be something like that in this country. And there may be some reflection by the media, led strikingly by Fox News, which said that if the Qur'an burning happened, it wouldn't televise shots of that. In asking what is the proportion in which we publicize both domestically and also around the world these inevitable extreme expressions.
RAZ: What's amazing to me is how much power this example can give to an individual. I mean, on your blog, I noticed there was a reference to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, right, by Princip. This was one man who had carried one act that led to World War I. And I wonder if, in this case, given how seriously public officials took it, it also sends that message that one person can really have a damaging impact on world affairs.
Mr. FALLOWS: It certainly is the case that when the world is thoroughly but imperfectly connected, where people can see TV shots, you know, almost instantaneously around the world, all over the Internet, but imperfectly in a sense they don't know how to put those things in context, the possibility for this kind of snowballing and just out of control effect is it's larger than it's been in quite a while.
And as you mentioned, the effect has been there for a long time. This doesn't mean that the media should censor the things they cover or it doesn't mean that we should control speech within the United States, but I think it is a useful reminder for media officials, public officials and perhaps the citizenry, too, of the unintended effects sometimes of extreme views.
RAZ: Jim, I want to ask you about politics. Because, as you know, almost every poll shows that Republicans are poised to win big this November. If the Republicans do make those gains, and given the amount of political daylight between congressional Republicans and the president, how are they going to get anything done? I mean, I know the question was asked in 1994, but I sense that it's more of a pronounced difference today.
Mr. FALLOWS: I think that compared to that time, you know, the final six years of the Bill Clinton administration, where he dealt with a Republican-controlled Congress, compared even to that time, there's a much more seemingly polarized partisan view, where Democrats aren't going to vote for Republican proposals and certainly vice versa, Republicans pretty much being unified against the Obama administration's attempts.
And so, what we saw in those last six years into Bill Clinton were a variety of smaller initiatives that large, sweeping legislation simply is not going to get through this kind of either a gridlocked or opposition-held legislature. And so we may see something like that last stage of Bill Clinton. The bright side of that was that was a good time economically for the country.
Mr. FALLOWS: So, that would be, from the administration's point of view, the silver lining.
RAZ: And polls consistently tend to indicate that Americans like a split government. They want different parties in power in different parts of the government.
Mr. FALLOWS: This is part of our luxury as a schizophrenic and thick old people that we like getting things done, we don't like gridlock, but we also like checks and balances. So, we'll see how that plays out in a little less than two months from now.
RAZ: That's James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com.
Jim, thank you so much.
Mr. FALLOWS: My pleasure. Thank you, Guy.
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