Testing the Limits of Tolerance and Compassion

Refugee Camp

9,000,000 Syrians displaced from their homes since 2011,

4,000,000 Syrians seeking asylum in Western Europe,

1,900,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey

1,100,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon

629,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan

3000 refugees camped in squalid conditions on the northern tip of France.(above)

3000 refugees arriving DAILY on the Greek island of Lesbos

2174 Syrian refugees accepted in the US since 2012

What would Will McAvoy and MacKenzie McHale do with this material?

Will (Jeff Daniels) and MacKenzie (Emily Mortimer) are, respectively, the news anchor and executive producer characters on HBO’s drama, The Newsroom. They are also my proxies for how news should be delivered. I recently binge watched the whole of the HBO series about a fictional news network. I was upset to discover that the show had been canceled after Season 3. Though flawed in some respects, the underlying premise of this Aaron Sorkin drama is that a news network committed to excellence can, without compromising principles, deliver a quality product and shed light on what’s happening in the world. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to get our news straight up, warts and all, in spite of  “market forces” – ratings, social media, and low expectations – working against us?

I like both actors, but the series caught my attention because I’m trying to stay informed, trying to be the best Jack Bernard I can be. As a self-identified news junkie I want my news served straight up with integrity. I’ve lived in places where it has been done. I know it’s possible. Even here in America some are making an effort. I think Will and MacKenzie’s struggles with their bosses mirror the real thing but they persevered and so should we.

NewroomContrary to this message, US networks and news outlets don’t appear to be on a mission to civilize. Rather, they are focused on maximizing profits, so while the world bleeds, Americans separated from global problems by two oceans and the European landmass, are currently being fed the inane, xenophobic, self-promoting utterings of a group of Presidential wannabes instead of the gut churning global events that are shaping the future.

If these networks (and candidates) were true statesmen they would be laying out the problems and offering solutions. There are differences to be sure but we’re getting only platitudes and venomous taunts. They need to get over Obamacare. It’s here to stay, and we are not in danger of a socialist takeover even if Bernie Sanders becomes President. Stop it! You have no grasp of the real global nightmare. Driven by ambition and determined to promote themselves by disparaging immigrants, abortionists, and each other, they swagger and lie and take selfies at rallies. They are acting like elementary school bullies. I’m already exhausted and there are still 10 months remaining in the 2016 election cycle.

Instead of parsing the words of the “candidates” we should ignore them for a few months and look for solutions to the tragedy unfolding in Western Europe, in the South China Sea, and surrounding the teetering edifice that is South Africa. These are real.

Where is the compassion and moral outrage over the European refugee crisis? Millions of families are fleeing the carnage in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan – and Central America. Families have lost everything.  Europe is hemorrhaging. The Middle East is choking with failed states. Mexico is run by drug lords, and Honduras is the murder capitol of the world. The globe is in crisis. There is an ongoing worldwide human tragedy in progress and it’s going to affect all of us sooner or later.

According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) there are 59.5 million forcibly displaced refugees in the world. Somewhere between 9 and 11 million of them are casualties of the war in Syria. The situation worldwide is catastrophic, and some of the situations are of such magnitude and horror that they defy solutions. The growing number of refugees is the most obvious problem. The numbers are alarming. 3000 exiles arrive every day on the island of Lesbos and move on through Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia to the promised land and relative security of Northern Europe. We are being asked to hit the Refresh button on our compassion every day that this continues. We are near the limits of tolerance and compassion.Refugee 2

We  are in danger of turning our backs on these families who have already suffered so much. Every day we see scenes of roads choked with exiles, or images of drowning victims, or the squalor of the Grande-Synthe camp near Calais where 2600 people share 32 toilets as they wait until nightfall and try to escape on semi-trailers entering the Chunnel headed for the relative safety of England.

How DO you report this kind of news daily and still maintain its urgency? News consumers are suffering from refugee exhaustion. Our senses are dulled by the repetition. It’s difficult to face this reality day after day. Our compassion is real but the repetition drains our energy. The sheer numbers and logistics involved are testing the limits of our tolerance, humanism, and compassion. What can we do to alleviate the pain, address the problem, and assimilate the victims of this tragedy?

Germany, the most generous of the European countries, is running out of money and ideas. The fleeing refugees are destabilizing Western Europe and draining the coffers of smaller countries. It’s a global catastrophe unlike anything we’ve seen since World War II. I know we can do better, but we are up against forces like Russia’s Putin, ISIS, and the regime in Damascus. There are no easy solutions but clear-eyed news reporting would help keep us focused on those who have tenable solutions to these complex and complicated problems.

Sometimes I think the fake news formats of late night comedy do a better job of reporting than the major networks. Stephen Colbert, Larry Wilmore, Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee highlight the important events better than their prime time counterparts. Am I confusing “entertainment” with “news?” Which is which? I miss Jon Stewart, but his avatars are continuing the good work.

Will McAvoy and MacKenzie McHale have given me hope that there are sincere, concerned, and intelligent professionals at work in the field. For now, I’m relying on Charlie Rose and the informed world citizens he brings to the table to discuss issues. I hope the world’s leaders are watching. I think they are. I see Charlie talking to and about them. Sometimes it seems like he’s the only one doing it. He has three programs going at the same time: Charlie Rose (PBS), Charlie Rose The Week (PBS), and CBS This Morning (CBS). I’m grateful that he’s so hard working. I know Will and MacKenzie would approve too.

Charlie Rose

At times like this it’s important to have perspective. This is not the first time in history that things have looked bleak. Just 100 years ago WWI was underway and before it was over 17 million were dead and 20 million wounded. More than 60 million died in WWII (according to Wikipedia). There have been wars, plagues, and natural disasters throughout history, but Dickens’ opening paragraphs ring as true now as they did when they were first written in 1859.

  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. (Tale of Two Cities)


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