Editor's Note - It's hard to stop knee-jerk reactions these days

From the editor

I didn't need the exchange student from China to tell me what's wrong with the way Americans have come to comprehend the world around them. But sometimes an outsider describes the forest more clearly while we fixate on the trees.

"Everyone is captivated by sensational, individual stories, but there are much more important things happening than that," she said while taking a break from her studies at a coffee shop in Candler Park. "You cannot understand what is really happening from these anecdotes."

We were talking about Scott Henry's July 20 cover story on sex offenders: A bad law that the Legislature wrote this year is creating an injustice for hundreds, maybe thousands — all because headlines and TV demagogues stirred up outrage over a handful of the worst predators.

We're a nation where knees jerked by media frenzies trump attempts to sort bad ideas from the good ones. That may continue to be the case for "sex offenders" now that a true villain has been charged with the murder of a woman on the Silver Comet Trail in Paulding County. The AJC is hyping the crime, while failing to draw a distinction between that kind of "sex offender" and the scores of relatively harmless people who are getting Scarlet Letter treatment because they're also considered "sex offenders." Scott's follow-up story (p. 20) should put the double-barreled tragedy in perspective.

While Georgians react to horrible sex crimes with overly sweeping, emotion-driven measures, we fall asleep and do nothing about such issues as global warming, which may already be harming all of us and surely will in the future. I hope this week's cover story will wake a few people to that reality.

There's one thing, at least, that both stories have going for them: The evidence has piled up that we're headed in the wrong direction. Surely, surely, we can do something to reverse course.


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