By now everyone has heard of Terry Jones. The nutjob preacher is the head of a church in Gainsville Florida, with a congregation of 50, (count 'em, 50) fellow nutjobs. And right now he is the center of everyone's attention.
Apparently all it takes for the world to beat a path to your door is to threaten to burn the Kuran.
The last time I checked the Google news page, there were 5,447 articles on Jones's intention to burn books. Compare that to 2,039 articles on the Colorado wildfires, fires that are already in progress, I might add.
At this point, whether Jones goes through with his plan or not doesn't matter any more. The genie is out of the bottle. It's not possible to say "Never mind, he didn't mean it. Just a false alarm." It's too late. Now some very dangerous people will use it as a reason to kill Americans. Just as Jones plans to make good on his threat, they will make good on theirs.
Years ago, I was a journalism student at Kent State. I was required to take a course called "Ethics of Journalism." One of the thorny issues covered in the course was considering the consequences of printing a story versus not printing it.
For example, a council member makes an offensive personal remark to another council member during a meeting. Should you print it, even though it would ruin one's career and it has no bearing on the city business conducted that night?
Or what if a gunman is holding people hostage, demanding that the paper air his grievances. Do you let him, knowing that others will do the same thing in order to get their own personal forums?
And finally, what if an obscure preacher of a tiny church announces his plans to commit an act that would cause world wide outrage, leading to the killings of Americans everywhere, including the troops?
Things were different in 1978. You had to go to college to become a journalist, and then you had to get yourself hired by a newspaper or a radio station or a television station. These institutuions were run by intelligent, thoughtful people who prided themselves on their impartiality and good judgment. It's not like today, when any idiot with an internet connection can call himself a journalist and even the major news outlets broadcast rumors and wild speculations, leaving it to the rest of us to sort out what's true and what's not.
If these editors were still around, perhaps they would have said "Terry Jones is a pastor of a tiny church. He has zero influence and let's keep it that way. We won't let him use our paper (or radio station, or television network, or internet site) as a means to spread his message of hate. Let him burn the books in the church parking lot. He'll cause a little smoke in Gainseville and that will be the end of it. What else you got?"
I know. Not going to happen. Ever.
But I do wish that all the journalists out there would get it through their heads that just because you can print something, doesn't mean you should.