Let’s not forget that, all too recently, the varying inanities of Sarah Palin’s “death panels” threatened to derail the current attempts at health care reform—and that is in large measure the fault of the media. Indeed, tonight’s speech was delivered in the first place largely to undo the damage done by a credulous, covetous press corps.
So, guys, it’s up to you. You can ignore Joe Wilson tomorrow, covering instead the substance of the health care discussion by illuminating and explaining its nuances for your audiences…or you can give the guy more air. But: it will be hot air. Allowing Joe Wilson’s two silly syllables more decibels than they deserve would do more than beg for similar publicity ploys in the future; it would also signal, simply, another failure for journalism. It would prove that the press are unable to learn from their mistakes. And it would suggest the broader anxiety coursing through the coverage of the health care debates—one bigger than death panels, bigger than town hall meetings, and bigger, certainly, than Joe Wilson: the fear that the media—victims so often of their own instincts—can’t, in the end, be saved. Even, and especially, from themselves.