Gossip: The Opiate of the Oppressed

The silence has been purposeful as I have contemplated the best way to put into words the thing that is troubling me.

Just tell the people how you feel, my husband advised.

They will stone me, I replied.

Perhaps, he agreed.

But know this, I don’t say it lightly. I am not making a statement haphazardly or out of ignorance, but rather out of a deep-seated concern for what I consider the undoing of us all.

I no longer believe in the First Amendment, not as it is practiced and protected in this country, at any rate. I don’t believe Freedom of Speech is an inalienable human right any more than I believe that all men are created equal.  A person must first redefine equal as something other than having the same value as another because this country has an ugly history to the contrary.

I know that it is a sacrilege for a woman who is a trained journalist to take a stand against the First Amendment. What about Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo? Have I considered the injustices of living in a country where Freedom of Speech is a punishable offense?

I have and that’s why I’ve put off writing this. I don’t want to laud such behavior, or to give credence to an archaic regime and its wrong-headed evil. But two wrongs don’t make a right, and while China is clearly in the wrong when it comes to the issues of human dignity, I think we’re being quite self-righteous given our track record.

The death of Elizabeth Edwards has exemplified for me much of what has gone wrong with us. Nearly all the news reports of her death and funeral have mentioned the infidelity of her estranged husband John Edwards. Most spelled out the name of the other woman.

And I have sat on the other side of the keyboard wondering how do I write what I’m thinking without doing the very thing that has angered me? How do I say that I think that this practice is wrong on so many levels without myself mentioning the infidelity and the other woman? So accept that I understand the double-standard, the hypocrisy if you will, but there is simply no other way to explain what I’m thinking. 

Why does a spouse’s infidelity warrant mention in the death reports of any of us? Why is that news? Why is that protected under the First Amendment? Why should that be the legacy that is put into print and passed along to generations to follow? For the grandchildren not yet born?

And, now as the headlines are speculating on whether the seducer who betrayed Elizabeth Edwards will help parent the children left behind, I can’t help but feel, rather strongly, that gossip has no place in the news. I have come to think that we have this whole Freedom of Speech thing totally messed up.

And don’t even get me started on those Anti-Christ protestors who showed up at Elizabeth Edwards’s funeral. If this is what it means to have the protection of the First Amendment then, buddy, I’d be happy with some censorship. It is long past time we prosecuted these folks and quit giving voice to their stupidity and evil-hearted endeavors.

We have become a callous, classless, and careless generation, given over to self-righteousness. We bad-mouth other nations for their human right offenses, while we drag the living and the dead naked through the filthy gutters of gossip.

If it is true that gossip is the opiate of the oppressed, then it’s pretty clear that we’ve got no room for boasting over our nation neighbors when it comes to issues of human dignity.

What good, pray tell, is the First Amendment as we are practicing it, doing us?

About Karen Spears Zacharias

Author. Speaker. Journalism Instructor. Four kids. Three dogs. One grandson.

  • jaz

    Amen.

    Common decency shouldn’t be too much to ask.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Apparently it’s not so common any more.

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  • http://faithwarming.blogspot.com April Terry

    I was thinking the same thing as I listened to all the reports and I hurt for her all over again wondering, “Even in death is she going to be remembered as the woman whose famous husband cheated on her?”

    Maybe the problem is that we have forgotten what human decency is because our consciences don’t work anymore. We’ve turned down the volume on our consciences and they are making an imperceptible sound. No longer does the voice of our conscience speak to us and tell us that it’s inappropriate. What was once a clear voice is now less than a whisper. A whisper we can ignore. The sound of whisper can be silenced by all of the busyness of our lives. It can be drowned out by the noise of the television. Our lust to know people’s business has squelched the sound of our internal voice.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      April: It angered me to the point of a stupor to see the reports of her death continually refer to her husband’s infidelity. Should a woman, any woman, be defined by her cheating husband? Or visa versa?

      I really believe that what constitutes human decency has been crowded out by our hunger and thirst for sleaze and mild porn.

  • Debbie

    I can’t see how people would jump all over you for saying it out loud Karen. You said it nicer than me.

    We do live in a world where we seem to glorify evil rather than good – maybe because this is darkness – we are called to be lights in the dark so I can only gather that we are in…anyway it is just plain sad.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I think the issue for some will be the notion that the sort of human rights offenses of other nations are considered far worse than ours, thus, our self-righteousness.
      Gossip seems so harmless by contrast.

  • Lillian

    Why is it that most news papers and news broadcasters feature news that is ‘bad’? What would happen if the news reporters leave off the infidelity, etc, and just report the good and happy things? Is America demanding ‘trash’ and ‘evil’ more so than ‘good’ news?

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Or how about they just report, heh, Lillian, instead of speculating and creating what passes for “news”?
      Reporting the news in this instance would have called for identifying who died, when she died, how she died, when’s the funeral? A bio of her life did not have to include at any point the comments about her husband’s unfaithfulness. They could have saved that for his obit. But even then I’m not sure it’s news.

  • Peg Willis

    But if we quit gossiping, how will we feel good about ourselves? I mean, isn’t that how we get our self-esteem – by putting others down? By dragging THEIR dirty laundry through our private conversations and public media? If we stop doing that, we might be forced to be more honest about our own sins. And that might make us uncomfortable! Surely, that can’t be a good thing! Surely?

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I think we’d all feel much better about ourselves if we found ways to affirm each other instead of tearing one another down constantly.

      • jaz

        Yes, we would.

        We might even rediscover the fact that the people with whom we make connections, not the things we own, are what really matter in our lives.

  • http://koinepdx1.blogspot.com AF Roger

    Apostle Paul siad it best in his reply to popular thinking among the Corinthian Christians. “All things are lawful for me” was their line. “Ah,” Paul reminded them, “all things are lawful; but not all things are helpful.” It’s not really freedom of speech but our confusion about news and entertainment. Respect seems to have been lost along the way.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Well, except in regards to the protestors who keep showing up at these funerals for nothing more than the publicity of it all. In that case they hide behind the First Amendment and we grant them that because we think this is what a Democracy means.

  • Alison

    That’s the problem, Karen. We give funeral protesters these wide berths because we don’t want to be accused of denying them their “First Amendment rights”. What we would really be denying them of is their publicity. I’m convinced that these people are attention-starved narcissists, and the most effective way to shut them down, without getting into the First Amendment stuff, is to deny them the publicity. Don’t talk about them showing up at funerals, and eventually (hopefully) they will go away, or just go underground. You don’t put out a fire by continuing to feed it with fuel–the same with these people.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      It’s true, Alison. There’s only a handful of them that ever show up. Usually less than 10 yet the way the media reports it you’d think there are hundreds turning out. If we just simply quit talking about them they would disappear the way all entertainers do once we take their mike away.

      • http://koinepdx1.blogspot.com AF Roger

        The Fred Phelps cult survives at least in part on having their legal fees paid by the injured parties and on settlements extracted from them. It is up to the courts to rule on matters of speech and to stand against abridgement of free speech. But matters of decency and civility are quite another, and in this area it is difficult for courts to rule without crossing a line into very dangerous and ill-defined territory. That’s where it’s up to the culture to exercise control, not the courts. Your whole point, I think, is that there is nothing wrong with the First Amendment but our use of it. So the problem is us.

        There is no good legal solution to this problem, maybe not even a bad one. But there is a moral and Christian one. Jesus’ admonition to not stand against an enemy or adversary by in fact turning into the very thing we hate is truly wisdom from God. It applies to the Pehlps crew–and to us.

        But here’s a question that arises. Since the Westboro Baptist Church has so often gone to funerals of fallen military members, I’m wondering if any of the Westboro “family” are now or have ever served in our armed forces. Have they shed any of their own blood, given an hour or a tour on behalf of the nation? My guess is no. If they had, I can’t imagine that even they would find it in their hearts to so complicate the pain of other families. I could for many reasons, but especially for this reason, wish for a return of a military draft, universal conscription, universal service. Stripped of exceptions, loopholes and dodges, it could put all of us citizens on a somewhat more equal basis, if only for a while.

        • Karen Spears Zacharias

          The problem Roger is we live in neither a moral or a Christian culture. How can we affect change when most can’t distinquish between a story that reports the news and one that circulates gossip. Thank you so much Entertainment Tonight.

          • http://koinepdx1.blogspot.com AF Roger

            How can we affect change? By living the change we want to see in the world. And in the words of the 1970 Graham Nash song, “Teach your children.” Many of them are our neighbors–and their parents. I twice called the manager of a local radio station to protest the daily dose of bad taste and bathroom humor on the Mark and Brian Show that a co-worker’s radio polluted my work environment with on a daily basis. I asked if he had kids. He said he did and that he himself occasionally had to go turn off the TV (this was before iphone porn, etc.). I told him that he and other broadcasters were shaping, hardening and coarsening the world in which his own children lived, and I asked him which was more important to God: the character of his kids and their friends or profits for his station’s owners. It got real quiet for a minute. Then he thanked me. And I thanked him.

            Back to my question. How many Phelps folks are veterans? Make some calls. Get back to us on this. Thanx!

      • Steve Taylor

        To their credit, outside of a Friday short story that noted Westboro had stated they were coming to protest, WRAL (Raleigh television) barely touched on the Westboro demonstration. I watched the primary news broadcasts and there was not even a mention of Westboro. On the WRAL website, there was a mention that a small number demonstrated two blocks away from the funeral location, Edenton Street UMC. It was not until today that I even knew whether or not Westboro had shown up. Very good for WRAL, offering little coverage to those who seek sensationalism.

        • Karen Spears Zacharias

          That’s good to know, Steve. I was disappointed the N&O felt the need to give so much space to the infidelty. Rehashing the obvious.

          • Steve Taylor

            Agreed. Even us folks down in the swamps have heard that enough that it makes us want to have our ears flushed. Or at least take a bath.

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  • http://www.johnhaselton.blogspot.com John Haselton

    I could not agree with you more on this Karen. We treat each other like dirt. In the case of Mrs. Edwards I can’t help but think (maybe I’m too cynical here) that the need to mention the immoral actions of her husband was driven by the desire to make more money. This I’m afraid is what we have become, and it makes me very sad. Thank you for saying what so many were thinking. peace j

    • Gloria

      I completely agree Karen. Thank you for putting into words what I was thinking! I believe Elizabeth Edwards deserved better and as you point out, this is just the tip of the iceberg! Thanks for having the courage to post and write this.

      • Karen Spears Zacharias

        I think she would be so sadden to know that even in her death the rags wouldn’t show her enough respect to leave out any mention of JE and his lady lover.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I think you are right about the need to make more money by playing up the sleaze factor, John. Sadly.

  • http://www.garynelson.wordpress.com Gary

    Karen, here’s a shock – I agree with you! Notice when I wrote on my blog of the Westboro hate mongers and Elizabeth Edwards I made no mention of her jack-ass husband’s behavior. There’s no need for that. This gossip-laden society in which we live really turns my stomach. Protecting that crap and the right to promote a hate-filled agenda at someone’s funeral under the first amendment is a load of doo-doo!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Gary: I wish you’d tell us how you really feel. HHAHAHA.

      I don’t understand why these folks can’t be prosecuted under hate crimes, if nothing else.

      And re: JE and his lady lover, I think John has it right. I think they mention it because it sells. I would wager a bet that if you took college journalism students and gave them a test of Truth or Gossip,most would fail it.

      • http://www.garynelson.wordpress.com Gary

        Sad, but true… Boy, I guess I got a little carried away there. I’m just so tired of this and being lumped in with these chumps – even in a small town!

        • Karen Spears Zacharias

          Getting carried away is called for in this instance.

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  • http://middletree.blogspot.com JamesW

    http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=5915183
    Karen, here’s a story about a Canadian former baseball player who’s being honored with a Canadian stamp. The story only mentions his baseball accomplishments. This upsets me.

    I’m going to write a letter to the editor complaining that nowhere in the story do they mention how faithful a husband he’s been over the years. I believe it’s my right to know.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Hahaha. Yeah. Good luck with that James.

  • Samantha Clough

    As a nation, we have largely forgotten that with guaranteed rights comes immense responsibility, to issues of both decency and truth. This is what I try to teach my students when I teach the Bill of Rights. Even if your right to do or say something is protected, it does not mean you should say or do it. Isn’t that why God gave us both a brain and a heart?

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Both of which we’ve taken for granted, I fear. Good for you, tho, Sam, teaching those kids responsibility. You radical you.

  • Timothy Dalrymple

    A very interesting reflection, Karen. Thanks for saying it out loud. I always enjoy hearing your thoughts.

    -Tim Dalrymple

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thanks, Tim.

  • John in PDX

    Karen, read your email – I need a favor and I sent you the picture of the Redhead Angel.
    I am an airhead, blockhead, boob, chump, clodpate, dimwit, dodo, dope, dork, dumbbell, dumdum, dunce, fool, goon, idiot, ignoramus, lamebrain, lunkhead, meathead, nitwit, sap, simpleton , stupid, & yo-yo.
    I choose to ignore John and concentrate on Elizabeth and how she kept her family together. I don’t really care what John did. His loss not hers. I don’t care to denegrate anyone.
    Regards,
    John

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      You have chosen wisely, John.

    • http://www.garynelson.wordpress.com Gary

      You’re pretty funny and I totally agree with you.

  • Pat

    This morning on the Today show, they were talking about the latest Hollywood breakup between Ryan Reynolds and his wife of 2 years. I wondered why that was even considered news and then it occurred to me because we’re secretly hoping for some juicy tidbits to be released about their relationship or the demise thereof.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      What would they talk about on those morning shows if not for all the gossip?


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