Buddhism in the Spin Zone
Mix FOX News, Tiger Woods, Brit Hume, and the question of
forgiveness and you get Buddhism’s blurry moment in the spin zone. Rod Meade
Sperry on how to respond when the angry men of cable news attack.
It started innocently enough. On a FOX News roundtable
on January 3, various talking heads were making sports predictions. That’s when
once-venerated newsman Brit Hume dropped a doozy about Tiger Woods, suggesting
a damage-control strategy for the golf legend, whose philandering had become
“It’s a tragic situation with him,” Hume said. “The extent
to which he can recover, seems to me, depends on his faith. He is said to be a
Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and
redemption that is offered by the Christian faith.”
Up ’til that point, I’d steered clear of writing about the
Woods scandal on the Shambhala Sun’s
SunSpace blog, not because he’s some kind of embarrassment to Buddhism—his
affiliation never seemed to be that serious anyhow. (Woods
would confirm that his Buddhist practice had become lax in his now-famous media
statement of February 19, suggesting that he would be rededicating himself to
practice.) The quality or frequency of Woods’ Buddhism was beside the
point. The point was: What Hume had said was out of line and just plain
I posted an item about it on SunSpace, and then ran out
for an afternoon of errands. By the time I returned, it was clear that Hume’s
remarks had struck a nerve. Readers’ comments were coming fast—about a hundred
over four days—and yes, some were furious. The majority seemed determined to
set the record straight. A sampling:
Adam: “The only people Tiger needs to ask forgiveness from are his
family and himself. But Hume needs to ask the Buddhist community for
forgiveness for such remarks, and if he does so with sincerity, we will act
compassionately and give it to him. My biggest concern is that he just
completely misrepresented Buddhist ethics and morals to his viewers.”
Steve Silberman: “FOX has done more than any
other big media organization in history to increase the amount of suffering,
delusion, aversion, violence, rage, and just plain ignorance on the planet. Not
sure what to do about it, though; I don’t believe this country has ever faced
anything like it.
pkhusker: “A real Christian would have called up Tiger and asked if
he needed a shoulder… or just prayed for him.
CamUhR1: “What Hume meant was,
‘Tiger should convert so that I may forgive him.’ A Buddhist would just forgive
Tiger (and Hume too, LOL).”
All in all,
this sort of online turnout was good news. Why? Well, Buddhists don’t
proselytize. Neither do true newsmen. But Hume had thrown impartiality out the
window along with his common sense, presenting to FOX viewers—and the worldwide
media, who quickly made hay with their colleague’s blunder—a divisive and, yes,
proselytizing suggestion that colored Buddhism as inferior. As the story
broke, one had to wonder not just how Buddhists would stick up for
themselves, but if.
Another question: Would Big Media allow Buddhists to speak
up on their airwaves? There was plenty of punditry, sure—starting with Hume on
FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, answering “I don’t think so” to the
question of whether he’d been proselytizing, and going on to argue that Woods
should make a “true conversion.” O’Reilly, predictably, steered the talk into
his comfort zone: “I don’t think we’re trying to denigrate Buddhism… What do
you think drives the negative comments about Christianity?” Pat Buchanan, for
his part, admitted on MSNBC that Buddhism was being denigrated, but so what? “There are not a lot of Buddhists
watching FOX.” A direct offer to FOX News executives—for a Shambhala Sun interview with Hume, wherein he could speak directly
to the Buddhist world—went, it would seem, into the digital trash.
So it was a sweet sight to see commentators like Don Imus
and Howard Stern starting to rail against FOX. But was anyone going to ask
Buddhists what they thought about the Hume Affair? All anyone had to do
was to scroll through the comments on SunSpace, and elsewhere in the Buddhist
blogosphere, and they’d see: Buddhists were a lot more savvy and impassioned
than Big Media was giving them credit for. Maybe that was the problem.
Finally, CNN’s Rick Sanchez did have the Interdependence
Project’s Ethan Nichtern on. Sanchez made himself clear: “As a Christian, I
think that [Hume’s suggestion for Woods] is a fine one.” Nichtern, though,
skillfully explained that Buddhism is a system of meditation techniques,
psychological teachings, and ethics “for creating greater self-awareness and
understanding.” Together, he reasoned, this greater self-awareness and
understanding are the redemption that Hume sees as inadequate
in the Buddhist faith.
For all of the online outrage, Nichtern got to the heart
of the matter: When it comes to faith, no one way is the true way. But when it
comes to being fair and balanced, well, I’d say the Buddhists won this one
hands down. In the face of unfair and imbalanced coverage, we banded together
as best we could, determined not to stand by as the O’Reillys and the Humes of
the world distorted what we stand for.
We’ll surely have to do so again sometime; as Buchanan
made clear with his remark, certain news outlets
aren’t interested in what Buddhists think. Well, not yet at least. But
as the punk pioneer Jello Biafra said, if you don’t like what you’re seeing in
the news, “Don’t hate the media. Become the media.” The question
is, can we counter the dualism so perfectly expressed in FOX’s black-and-white
coverage not just with passion, but with skill? Can we express truth with
confidence, and without contributing to divisiveness? Can we be lotus flowers,
strong, inviting, and unsullied in Big Media’s muck?
We’ll have to. To respond with articulate compassion—as so
many Buddhist bloggers did in the case of the Hume Affair—is not only an
expression of our practice. It’s guerilla PR, a way to get noticed despite the
racket created by the big guys.
I’d like to think that’s just what we’ll do if Hume ever
accepts my offer for an interview. I’d love for him to learn what Buddhism’s
brand of forgiveness and redemption might really look like.
Rod Meade Sperry is the Digital Editor of the Shambhala Sun Foundation, and the creator of the Buddhism-and-pop-culture site, TheWorstHorse.com.