Opinion article by Tim Rutten:
"If you reengage the American media after a month out of the country, as I've done this week, it's hard not to conclude that hysteria is now the dominant characteristic of our politics and civic conversation."
For me, the money quote is down at the bottom of page 2:
"Back in the early 1970s — an era whose tumult we yet may come to regard as benign — social scientists here and in Britain coined the term "moral panic" to describe what can happen when groups of people are seized by an exaggerated fear that other people or communal forces threaten their values or way of life. The scholars described those who promoted the panic's spread as "moral entrepreneurs" — a term that takes on a deep resonance when you consider the commentators and politicians who have attached themselves, and their interests, to the "tea party" and its attendant movements.
"In the midst of moral panic, inchoate indignation stands in for reason; accusation and denunciation supplant dialogue and argument; history and facts are rendered malleable, merely adjuncts of the moral entrepreneur's — or should we say provocateur's — rhetorical will. As we now also see, a self-interested mass media with an economic stake in the theatricality of raised and angry voices can transmit moral panic like a pathogen.
"Looking around the United States in the summer of 2010, hysterical moral panic seems an apt description of our fevered political condition."
I recently commented that I don't really care whether or not other people watch television; my decision not to watch is personal, rather than ideological. That's still true, but I would like to encourage people to unplug themselves from the panic factories.
Edited to add: Just to be clear, I'm not talking about television in general; "panic factories" is a refence to the sort programming which is specifically designed to make people panic about things in the real world. News shows are pretty bad about this ("Could your kids be in danger because of this common household item? Tune in at eight to find out...") and I suspect that a fair chunk of talk/opinion shows are as well. There's some portion of the population whose churches are panic factories, and there's plenty of people whose friends are as well.
Basically, if something or someone spends most of their time telling you things that make you worried or scared, it's time to stop listening to them. A well-placed (and truthful) warning is one thing; a constant litany of reasons to panic is another. I'm talking about the American news media in particular, but I think it's good general advice.