Yesterday, on NPR’s All Things Considered radio program, Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr suggested that Major Nidal Hasan had an accomplice in his horrific shooting spree – the Internet. The report was probably the most ridiculous things I’ve heard on the radio, and especially egregious coming from NPR, a source from which I expect better. Schorr’s editorial seems to be both fear mongering and advocating censorship of the Web. Both of which are irresponsible and dangerous. The original article and broadcast can be found here.
During the year leading up to the shooting at Ft. Hood, Major Nidal Hasan exchanged several emails with radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. For that reason, Schorr suggests that the Internet is culpable as Hasan’s accomplice. Schorr paints this picture of sinister communion between Hasan and Awlaki against a backdrop where President Obama is lobbying China for a free Internet, an ironic counterpoint suggesting that censorship is, in fact, in the public’s best interest.
Schorr’s accusations and suggestions were so absurd, I’m not quite sure how to respond. Where in the world did he come up with the idea to lay blame on a communication medium? How did he decide on the Internet? Why not blame TV, telephones, or the radio? Whatever the reason, it doesn’t seem constructive to place blame on a technology built on hardware, software, and electrons.
Is the Internet the new Marilyn Manson? Concerned parents and other censorship advocates have long pointed at music lyrics as the cause of teen violence. After the Columbine massacre, Marilyn Manson in particular came under fire for his violent lyrics and their alleged role in causing that shooting. We now collectively live with government imposed censorship of music – both on the radio, and in the record stores in the form of warning labels.
It seems that Schorr is vilifying the Internet as the new Satan du jour. This type of demonizing and fear mongering is the first step down the dangerous path towards censorship. I'm shocked to hear something like this coming from such a seasoned veteran of the media establishment so deeply steeped in the principles of free expression. Has Schorr gone senile?
His position makes even less sense to me than blaming music lyrics. The Internet is a communication medium; it is not the ideas (good or bad) carried across it. Like the telephone, TV, and radio, the Internet gives us the vehicle for connecting and sharing with other people, but we drive that vehicle. We, as people, decide who to email, who to call, what to watch, and what radio stations to listen to. Of course, we always have the option to put on the brakes and get out of the car. Ultimately, we are responsible for our actions, not the vehicle.