Columnists > Voices

Good, bad, ugly

The news, and the reporting of it, appears mixed, as usual

Issue: "Memorial Day 2003," May 24, 2003

GAUL IS DIVIDED INTO THREE PARTS. THAT'S HOW Julius Caesar began his history of the wars he fought in western Europe. He didn't say which part was good, which bad, and which ugly, but that's the way much of the news often appears-with compliments to the famous (and pretty good) spaghetti Western movie starring Clint Eastwood.

Good: Through the kind ministrations of Karl Rove, the two boys recently adopted into a fine family through the compassionate responses of this magazine's readers (see WORLD, Dec. 15, 2001, and Jan. 25, 2003) were able to meet George W. Bush in the Oval Office on April 23. Here's an account from that adoptive dad:

"It really happened! We had the boys decked out in their Stetson-style hats, cowboy boots, and white shirts and ties. [The 8-year-old's] greeting to the president of the United States was a hearty 'howdy,' after President Bush declared, 'once a Texan, always a Texan.' [The 10-year-old] was impressed that he was able to wait in the same room as the various heads of states ('kings,' he said) that come to meet the president. Both of the boys practiced standing like the Marine guard for a few days after the meeting. For my wife and I it all seemed surrealistic."

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Bad: What seems even more surrealistic is that the former president of the National Organization for Women is assuming this month the presidency of the Y.W.C.A. The organization is moving its national office from New York to Washington, D.C., and the goal of Patricia Ireland, 57, is to involve the Y.W.C.A. more in liberal politics. Still breathing pro-abortion and pro-lesbian fire, she said, "The Y.W.C.A. has a certain amount of respectability that I would like to capitalize on."

"Capitalize," though, is the wrong word for what Ms. Ireland is doing with the Young Women's Christian Association. "Living off the interest," to use Francis Schaeffer's expression for a society that thrives because of the achievements of past generations but isn't adding new ethical capital of its own, would be better. Ms. Ireland made headlines a decade ago by living with another woman in Washington while remaining officially married, but she says that her interview by the Y.W.C.A. executive board included "no questions about my personal life."

Ugly: You may have read or heard last week the saga of Aron Ralston, 27, who was pinned for four days by an 800-pound boulder that had rolled onto his right arm as he was climbing in a remote Utah canyon. On the fifth day, with rescuers not finding him and his food and water almost entirely gone, he applied a tourniquet and then used a dull pocketknife to saw off his own arm: "I'm not sure how I handled it. I felt pain and I coped with it. I moved on."

That's not the ugly part of the story, although when Mr. Ralston finally made it back to civilization he was covered in blood from his chest to his legs, shorts, socks, and shoes. What's ugly is that most major media coverage of the amazing physical feat left out the spiritual aspect that Mr. Ralston himself stressed. He told a press conference that he survived because he felt a mysterious surge of energy on the fifth day of his ordeal, May 1, which-he emphasized-was the National Day of Prayer.

Mr. Ralston said, "I may never fully understand the spiritual aspects of what I experienced, but I will try. The source of the power I felt was the thoughts and prayers of many people, most of whom I will never know." Some publications told the whole story: A Detroit Free Press headline read, "Gutsy Hiker Guided by Faith," and the Toronto Sun reported, "Will to Live and a Prayer Set Man Free." An Associated Press headline merely read, "Climber Used Technical Know-How in Escape," but the story did quote Mr. Ralston telling reporters, "I think a lot of it came from beyond me and my capacity. I believe there was a greater presence than just me in that canyon."

NBC, CNN, ABC, The New York Times, Newsweek, and the Los Angeles Times were among the media outlets that spiked the spiritual, not referring at all to what Mr. Ralston himself stressed was a major part of the story. Headlines in some newspapers stressed lesser parts of the story: "Despite Loss of Limb, Dreams Can Endure; Artificial Appendages Available for Many Sports," or "Hiker's Parents Stress Caution; Lost Arm Reinforces Message to Inform Others About Plans."

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