by Pete Mazzaccaro
Anyone who has worked in the news business is intimately familiar with outrage.
Newspaper writers, bloggers, sportscasters – everyone who works in media – has likely been accused of doing something outrageous. Often it happens when we had no intention or inclination that anything we might write or say could possibly be conceived as such. Hardly a week passes by at the Local when we’re not accused of running something that’s outraged at least one reader.
Outrage is generally an insult, or a feeling of deep insult, derived from an action that is so bad as to be morally wrong. In other words, it’s not just an insult, it’s a kidney shot to to someone’s sense of right and wrong.
You’d think there’d be a relatively high bar to accomplish outrage in written word or speech, but you’d be wrong. Our national conversation spends most of its time in a state of outrage. We’re either expressing our outrage over something someone said or we’re talking about those groups that claim to be outraged.
We’re spending far too much time being outraged. Perhaps at no time since Puritans controlled the colony of Massachusetts has there been more outrage professed in an average day.
A great example of our state of perpetual outrage followed remarks made by President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 5. President Obama is a walking, talking outrage factory. Everything he says and does is followed by volumes of encyclopedia-sized accounts of how his remarks are outrageous. Fox News appears to be dedicated to expressing outrage about the president 24 hours a day.
During this prayer breakfast, a relatively straightforward set of remarks by the President managed to outrage the entire Republican Party, numerous conservative Christian organizations and the country of India. That’s right, the whole country.
I could analyze and/or defend the specific remarks made by the President, but I’m not going to. The point I’d like to make is that I think we, as a people, should be able to listen to honest commentary and not get offended. We might be provoked to disagree with things someone says, and we have every right to criticize, but when GOP lawmakers said they’ve never been more offended in their lives by the words of United States President, I think we’ve crossed the line of common sense (though, we’ve been well beyond that border for some time now and it’s hard to recall what common sense looks like).
Unearned outrage is not the sole property of the right. I’ve read similar responses to the viewing and over-criticism of “American Sniper,” the biopic of Iraq War veteran and sniper Chris Kyle. So many were outraged about so many things the film arguably did, and even more about what it didn’t do, when in the end it’s just another Clint Eastwood film.
I’m not saying we should drop our politics. Presidential speeches and films should definitely get us talking about things, like our role in Iraq and the dangers of religious fervor. But words and works of art are rarely something that warrant real outrage. When we profess to be in a constant state of outrage, it leaves little room for things that truly deserve it. Last week, ISIS fighters burned a Jordanian pilot alive in a cage and released a video of the atrocity. That is exactly the kind of thing we should be outraged about.