Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Seriously, reporting on the wrong thing

I wrote last week that the Boston bombing media frenzy was misdirected and unwarranted.  It turns out I was wrong, but in a strange way:  Reporting on the bombing itself was still terrible but the event had a lot more importance when you consider the side effects.  I did some reading on the internet about the capture of the bombing suspect and the things people said about it were utterly terrifying; it was dead common for people to be against the suspect being read his rights.  Note that he hasn't been convicted yet.  This isn't someone who has had his day in court, nor even someone caught red handed.  Is he guilty?  Probably, as far as I can tell.  Even so, the people of the US shouldn't be advocating that the government toss aside fundamental rights of citizens whenever something exciting happens.  You do *not* want them to have that power, just like you don't want the police shutting down an entire city except for the donut shops.  (I wish I was kidding.)

A similar sort of thing is happening up here in Canada.  The government is pushing through a new anti terror bill that would allow them to detain people for three days without charging them and limit their travel abroad. All in the name of stopping terrorism, of course, which won't be stopped by these measures and isn't a significant problem here anyway.  We had our own series of high profile arrests (well staged and conveniently timed) recently to support pushing through the bill because nothing gets people willing to give the government unchecked power like a little bit of high profile mayhem.  Fear is a very useful tool when you want to add a bit to the reach of your power over those under you; once the law is in place it is a lot harder to remove.

Governments will leap to make use of any high profile event to push their agendas and we would be wise to try to stop them from doing so.  It is made all the harder though by citizens who immediately jump up to ask the government to strip away human rights any time something bad happens.  I don't want people to get blown up of course but I recognize that people getting blown up is not an infinitely bad event.  It is very bad, and the government abusing its power to oppress the citizenry is also bad and *vastly* more common.  It makes me sad to think it but it may be that the most important thing to think about for most people when a tragedy occurs is "How is the government going to abuse this to justify doing terrible things to people?"

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