Not that anything is necessarily wrong with the Big Picture, but journalists determined to provide it can be a little befuddling. Aren’t we getting carried away? I sometimes wonder.
A Minnesota dentist shot and killed a beloved lion in Zimbabwe. Condemnation rained from social media. So much condemnation so fast that pundits I came across in the Thursday Tribune felt obliged to step outside the torrent and comment on it.
Not that John Kass feels any sympathy for the dentist, Walter Palmer—Kass made it clear he doesn’t—but his mind was on other matters. What happens when “human children are slaughtered?” he wondered. “America mostly shrugs.” On the other hand, what if “a big-game hunter took unborn lion cubs and crushed their skulls and harvested their organs for scientific research, then talked lightly about technique with a glass of wine in his hand?” In that case, said Kass, “there might be even more outrage . . . . And much of the media would rise up in anger . . . ”
I wondered where Kass was going with this. Usually when Kass paints a Big Picture he doesn’t stop until he’s inked in Barack Obama somewhere in the shadows. And Obama had just been in Africa so he was easy pickings. But Kass veered off. “But we’re not consumed with unborn lions today, are we?” he snarled. “Oddly, we’re not consumed with rhinoceroses either.”
And readers could only marvel at Kass’s uncanny ability to sense that until that very second none of us had been thinking of rhinoceroses.
Meanwhile, the Tribune editorial pages carried an extract of a piece by Brian Beutler of the New Republic. Yes, the death of Cecil the lion—baited, wounded, stalked, and finally shot dead—was “cowardly.” And therefore “people are right to be disturbed by it, even if they expend no emotional energy whatsoever condemning police violence, abortion, meat-eating, hunting or Donald Trump.”
When I read Beutler’s entire piece on the New Republic website I realized he wasn’t echoing Kass so much as dealing with him. He was responding to what he calls a “cross-ideological pandemic of whataboutism.” What about black kids gunned down? What about Planned Parenthood? (And what about rhinoceroses, though Beutler didn’t go there.)
“Killing defenseless animals for entertainment” is a simpler issue, in Beutler’s view, and therefore easier to work up outrage over. Which is fine. “Progress might not be so halting if people had wider horizons, which is why encouraging them to see their priorities reflected in distant tragedies is a valuable thing.”
We have to learn to walk before we run. Though I must say this: plenty of outrage and disgust has come my way from people I know on Facebook, and this is by no means the first time they’ve been angry.