Like many of you, the news that Fernando Rivas was arraigned in federal court on child pornography charges took me by surprise. An Emmy-winning composer for such children’s shows as Handy Manny and Sesame Street, Rivas had been an occasional City Paper contributor. As an editor, I’ve admired Rivas for his ability to take two subjects I care little about, opera and classical music, and make me want to read about them. Things have changed. Rivas has not been convicted of any crime — only charged — but for me, I can’t think about him in the same way I did before.
I don’t see the need to go into the allegations right here. If you don’t know about them, The Post and Courier and our local news stations can fill you in. This is not a case of high-mindedness; I simply have no desire to repeat them. As many of you know, I have two daughters, and frankly, this case troubles me in ways that others do not. The details are there and they are disturbing. However, in light of the charges against Rivas, the arrest of Louis “Skip” ReVille, and the allegations against Jerry Sandusky, it’s important to see these situations for what they are. And by that, I mean what they aren’t.
Child sexual abuse isn’t spreading. I know it may feel that way, especially when three high-profile cases become public at the same time. It is not a virus that is working its way into the minds of morally upstanding men and women and transforming them into vicious monsters. When it comes to these three cases, the timing is merely coincidental. There is no chain reaction here. The initial search of Rivas’ home happened in April. The investigation against Sandusky began in 2009. And the arrest of ReVille occurred this past Oct. 28. Of course, that doesn’t change the horror that parents feel. And it doesn’t change the lives that have been damaged. But the point is the world as we know it is not suddenly turning into a darker place. That’s a trick played on us by the flood of information we receive each and every day.
Now, some might blame the media for this glut of bad news — Lord knows I’ve criticized the if-it-bleeds-it-leads mentality of many news organizations. However, these events have caused me to look at what we in the media choose to report and why we do it. Although some news outlets cater to salaciousness, this is not the overriding MO for all media organizations even when they are reporting on the most sensational and horrific matters. The media focuses on subject matter that has the most impact on the people involved, society at large, and its readers and viewers. In many ways, the news is a mirror to our souls. It provides us with a means to define ourselves.
For some of us, we read about ReVille and Sandusky and are reminded of our love for our children, our need to protect them, and our desire to make sure that no one is ever hurt again. It is a losing battle but a valiant one. When we read about Al Parish, we think of how we too might be conned, how all that we have worked for could be ruined by a liar and a thief, and we think about how we might identify such confidence men if and when they enter our lives. When we read about the tragic shooting of 5-year-old Allison Griffor, we are reminded of how precious life is, how quickly it can be snatched away, and how we must give our loved ones all of our love all of the time.
But the news is not always about the bad. It’s also about the good. A highlight reel of the day’s football games inspires us. It stirs something in our souls in a way that few inconsequential things can. A fluff piece on the fabulous life of a Hollywood star takes us away from our mundane routines and momentarily transports us to a world of fantasy. It gives us hope. Even the report about a waterski-riding squirrel has its purpose too. It makes us look at the world with amazement. It causes us to hit the pause button and call in our family members to the room and watch in wonder at the sheer fascinating weirdness of it all. It gives us hope that despite all that we know and all that we have seen, the world in which we live is still a magical place.
And don’t ever forget that. That’s something the bastards can never change.
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