John Warner’s retirement is worth about five minutes’ discussion. Instead we got ten minutes of undisguised electoral speculation. Speculation seems to be the currency of modern journalism. Reporters spend more time on things that haven’t happened than they do on actual events. The Warner coverage, for instance, could have focused on what the guy has done in 30 years, but no. The emphasis was on how many senate seats will change hands in 2008.
In the first place, who cares? Who cares what a couple of NPR commentators think about events that will happen 22 months from now? They’re almost always wrong in their predictions, and so these prognostications have to be reckoned pure entertainment. On the priority list of things I need to know, talking heads’ opinions about 2008 are far down, and I don’t have time for entertainment when there’s news. And there’s news. There’s news about how hard times are for most of us. There’s news about the lamentable condition of our infrastructure and the erosion of our institutions. There’s news about our abandonment of morals and values. There’s news about corruption in government and business, and there’s news about the defilement of the earth. There’s news, all right. But we aren’t allowed to have it.
They tell us we want this crap. We don’t. I’m sure I speak for more than one person when I say that we don’t want it. The media claim we crave more good news. That we want to know how celebrities live. That we don’t care about public policy and current events. That we are so foolish as to believe that Iraq had a role in 911. That we are bored by reports about important events and can’t pay attention to them.
I might believe that if the news we get didn’t come so cheap. Most of it is derived from systematic promotions, explicitly aimed at exploiting the news media to sway public opinion. Celebrity news and government press releases are free stuff. If you can resell them at a profit, you’re golden. Real news must be gathered by brave, talented professionals, and they don’t come cheap. And so the media neglect to inform us about public policy (did you know what was in the latest “Patriot” Act before it got passed?), keep current events from us (do you have confidence in any report on Iraq?), foist celebrities on us (how much coverage did Anna Nicole Smith get on NPR?), won’t even discuss what happened on 911, and indulge in speculation as if it were news. Of course, we’re disinformed.
I had the privilege this week to stand behind a TV reporter covering a police chase and car crash in my neighborhood. She hung around talking with the cameraman for a half-hour, waiting for some sort of spokesman. I’d missed the actual crash (heard it from my house), and so I canvassed people who were milling around to find out what happened. By the time the reporter arrived, I’d talked with three eyewitnesses. I remarked within her earshot that she looked like a model of modern journalism: lazy, hesitant, and uninformed. I directed her to the people I’d spoken with, but she didn’t make a serious move to find out anything from them. She was still whispering to the cameraman when I went home. She covered the crash the way the rest of the media cover our “war” and our “government.” I’d like to find a way to hold them accountable for professional malfeasance.