I took some time off my regular schedule to write a book. It's all about how we as a society have abrogated our opinion-making and handed it over to whatever media we follow.
For some people these days it takes too much time and effort to engage in critical thinking. But what if the media is just playing follow the leader -- parroting each other and not really checking out the facts? It happens all the time, and now more than ever we need to use our common sense to help lead us to the truth.
My new book is about the couple the media branded "The White House Gate Crashers," Michaele and Tareq Salahi. The name of it is Cirque du Salahi -- Be Careful Who You Trust, and I don't mention it here as just a shameless plug for my own work. I mention it because Cirque -- or circus -- perfectly describes the information superhighway traveling into our homes every minute of every day. It has become a circus of truths, half-truthful exaggerations and downright lies. Many of us gobble it up without stopping to think what we're digesting.
Let's analyze the nickname the press gave the Salahis just hours after they appeared at President Obama's first state dinner on Nov. 24, 2009: "The White House Gate Crashers." But, whoa! Stop and think about that a minute.
Nobody "crashes" the gate at the White House, for goodness sakes! The place is ringed with armed guards and a massive security net. So why would the media say that -- over and over before any real facts were known? Because it's catchy and it fits into today's terrorist watch mentality. Salahi -- why it even sounds like a suspect Middle Eastern name!
The Salahis decided to open up to one person -- me -- and to tell their whole story. During my investigation I got to dissect all their e-mails with a White House representative who promised to try to get them in to the event. I discovered the Salahis honestly believed they were invited to the welcoming ceremony for the Prime Minister of India. I learned that once they arrived at the White House they presented their passports to not one -- but two -- Secret Service checkpoints and they were waved right in. Once inside the grand reception hall staff ushered them through the official receiving line and then into the lavish dinner tent set up on the South Lawn.
Now, what part of that sounds like a "gate crashing" to you? That's right -- none of it. Yet to this day most media continue to refer to the Salahis as "crashers" and remind the public that federal charges are still a possibility. Ridiculous.
The Salahis immediately cooperated with federal investigators who learned the details I've just outlined for you -- and much more. Yet those investigators apparently didn't pass the word on to the Congressional Homeland Security Committee. Even before the hearing members publicly vilified the Salahis. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee called them "the perpetrators." Her colleague, Eleanor Holmes Norton declared, "Clearly they were outlaws before they crashed the White House." So when the couple was subpoenaed to appear before the committee there is there any wonder why they exercised their constitutional right to remain silent? With the deck already stacked against them they had no choice but to take their lawyer's advice and plead the fifth. Your lawyer would tell you to do the same.
It was a shameful kangaroo court proceeding conducted by the congressional panel that's supposed to be concentrating on ways to keep the country safe in this post 9-11 atmosphere. Instead, the politicians were more interested in getting face time on TV while the story was still hot.
The Salahis are not like you and me. Months before the White House event they were cast as members on a "reality" TV show. An odd move, in my book, but being odd is not against the law in America. They owe money to multiple creditors, but how many other citizens have gotten caught up in this bad economy? Their worst luck was to become the target in this new era of lock-and-load journalism. The media decides who the focus is and relentlessly zero in.
The Salahis' biggest transgression may have been that they blindly trusted too many people. Their own entertainment lawyer paved the way to the White House state dinner then dropped them like a bag of toxic waste after the scandal broke. They trusted federal investigators would help clear their name. They trusted that the justice system and the federal grand jury hearing their evidence would exonerate them. They trusted that the media would ultimately get the story straight. But here we are almost a year later, and the Salahis are still twisting in the wind.
Too many of today's professional journalists, augmented by mostly inexperienced internet bloggers, are all too eager to jump on the story-du-jour for fear of being left behind. Too bad they don't take the time to research facts before parroting what others have reported before them.
Be careful who you trust.
Diane can be reached through her web site www.DianeDimond.com Her new book can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com.