Coach's Corner

Against a back- drop of Olympic brotherhood, frivolity and rampant nationalism, I'm reminded of a sad time in our history. A place and time of inverted morality. A period of bleakness, when humanity, forgotten entirely in much of the world, was on the run. The time is Germany in the mid-Thirties.

This subject matter is a change of pace from Michael Irvin, Dream Teams, my dogs and mountain streams. Sometimes, our games just don't seem so important.

I can't help thinking of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief who masterfully exploited German radio, press and cinema, to strip German citizens of their rights and much more. Goebbels, perhaps the first to fully comprehend the staggering power of mass media, never in his wildest fantasies could have imagined the force and scope of the "free" media only 50 years later. More shocking still would be this discovery: By 1996, it wasn't necessary for the state to control the media and thus the flow of information. No, no. The beauty is, the free press, with some subtle prodding, would do the state's bidding. If Goebbels had a sense of irony, he might be amused to discover the media would think it was all its own idea.

Nick Barbaro touched on this matter on Page Two last week. We live in a most dangerous time. Not, as he pointed out, dangerous to our person, but menacing in the quiet erosion of our rights as Americans. On February 27, 1933, a fire destroyed the Reichstag, the German seat of government. The Nazi propaganda machine went into high gear, quickly blaming the Communists and the Jews for this travesty. Predictably, the German citizenry was outraged. The German middle class, heretofore ambivalent to Hitler, moved passively toward acceptance of fascism. Reasonable people were now willing to allow their basic rights as citizens to be stripped slowly away, one by one. Soon, six million were dead. By then, no one cared that the Nazis themselves, to further their own social/political agenda, had set the fire.

I'm not suggesting, hinting or in any way implying the bombing at Centennial Park was anything other than the act of some morons. However, our government, with unlimited, free, high-tech assistance from the American media, is using this incident, along with the TWA Flight 800 disaster, to further its own agenda.

The media's role in the aftermath of the bomb in Centennial Park, in reality a minor incident, was revolting. I can't escape the feeling that CNN/NBC/ESPN were having an electronic wet dream, as this incident unfolded at the foot of their communications monolith, where all their heavy artillery could be brought, instantaneously, to bear.

The incessant stories of brave citizens making some kind of moral point by going to the various venues was sickening. People, not being nearly as stupid as the media assumes, accurately deduced the solitary nature of this act and proceeded accordingly. What if a real terrorist bomb exploded in the second deck of the Georgia Dome during a Dream Team performance? Or at a packed house during a gymnastics final? Would the games still be so well-attended? I think not.

Simultaneously came the barrage of "the games must go on" stories. As if anything short of a nuclear detonation could stop this electronic and marketing juggernaut. This week, a story from a usually solid magazine, Sports Illustrated, written by a writer too good for this, compared this incident to the Munich disaster in 1972. Maybe this is what the American public wants to believe. Maybe (for not the first time) I'm missing something really important. I don't know. It's depressing.

This smarmy, unquestioning, relentless coverage pounds into the conscience of the nation that we are in great danger, though as Barbaro accurately pointed out, our bathrooms are far more hazardous.

We're talking about the erosion of rights. What about the "suspect" in this affair? Why do we even know who he is? This fellow, who may or may not even be charged with anything, has had his property confiscated, his voice analyzed, his body fluids examined and every move of his life scrutinized. All his neighbors, friends, enemies and passing acquaintances have been interviewed on national TV. Who cares about how this guy's rights, guilty or innocent, were stampeded? What if he did nothing? The man has been destroyed. If he is charged with anything, surely he's already been found guilty by the worldwide media.

In the wake of one real disaster and one media creation, many in government, from the President on down, are advocating further "anti-terrorist" measures: increased wire-taps, more police surveillance and a greater latitude in search-and- seizures. "Well," we sigh, "I don't want to get blown out of the sky," and anyway, "It doesn't affect me."

The intrinsic nature of government, any government, is to control. The great danger to Western democracies, circa 2000 A.D., is when we, like the Germans of the Thirties, allow our rights to be eroded, one by one, because it "doesn't affect me" -- until the world where our grandchildren will reside is no more secure, but much less free. n

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