Tuesday, September 30, 2003


In my role as an official member of the news media I manage to get on any number of lists. I'm really not sure why, but I get calls, letters and emails from a wide variety of folks with their own agendas. For whatever reasons they've pegged me as a person whose opinion matters, and more importantly whose views can be influenced, thus impacting our radio station's news coverage. They're wrong, but it's flattering.

The first time this happened was when I was in college. I was the News Director for KNTU radio, the campus radio station, which at that time broadcast at 400 watts, which meant you could only hear it if you were close enough to also see the actual "ON AIR" lights in the studios.

Despite these meager surroundings, Exxon decided I was someone they wanted to impress. Although I'm still a little mystified they chose me, their motives were less cryptic. It was at the height of the first major gas crisis in the late 1970's. The big oil companies were looking for allies anywhere they could find them. Obviously since I was targeted, they must not have found many.

Exxon paid for me and the editor of the college newspaper to a spend a weekend at a relatively posh resort in Austin, posh being a subjective term since at the time I was living in a typical college town hovel with three other guys which we lovingly referred to as "Withering Heights". It was not uncommon for my food budget to be about 4 bucks a month -- you'd be surprised how far you can stretch a box of Quaker Oats, a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter.

The trip was couched under the guise of broadening my understanding of journalism, and various impressive speakers were brought in like Sander Vanocer, the then-President of ABC news and Fred Graham who at that time was the Supreme Court correspondent for CBS. Sandwiched between them were other speakers who were less famous and less focused on journalism. They were more intent on not so gently passing along the message that oil companies were not evil and that sky rocketing prices and long lines at gas pumps were the fault of others. Rumors of price fixing and profiteering were pure fiction.

I listened to their words. I ate the free food. I applied more than a few grains of salt to both.

I washed down this wisdom with beer from a keg that was available nightly.

I left the retreat with no higher regard for Exxon, Vanocer or Graham. Nor did I feel I understood the energy crisis any better than when I arrived. I wondered if I got anything out of that weekend more valuable than a flashback of what a clean room felt like, a full belly and a slight hangover.

In retrospect I'm sure Exxon would now think it's money could have been better spent elsewhere.

Amy just cleared away some of the debris on our desk and about eight inches down I found something that was sent to me a few weeks back. It's a little book entitled, A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam. It's about 70 pages long.

I've read what the book says, but I don't understand Islam any better.

The book dedicates one page to the question: What does Islam say about Terrorism?

It says this:"Islam, a religion of mercy, does not permit terrorism".

Flipping through the book again today, I couldn't help but think about that weekend in Austin. I think this is another case where the message may have been misdirected. It seems like there are other folks who could stand a refresher course in that aspect of Islam. Send them the book...the postage charges would likely be a lot less.