During the last great cultural clash some forty years ago, a college acquaintance pointed out why the United States didn’t need censorship. We were watching some lame dance troupe like the Doodletown Pipers jumping around on teevee to “Penny Lane.” In those days, Beatles’ songs had a countercultural signficance to us.
“That’s why we don’t need censorship,” my acquaintance said. “We can say anything in America. And the establishment eventually will do that to it!”
Fast forwarding to the present, the establishment doesn’t have to work so hard.
Elizabeth Edwards’ well-written and insightful take-down of Teh Nooz* should not go unheralded. In sum,
…every analysis that is shortened, every corner that is cut, moves us further away from the truth until what is left is the Cliffs Notes of the news, or what I call strobe-light journalism, in which the outlines are accurate enough but we cannot really see the whole picture.
Although there’s nothing really new to her insights, they remain so frightening, really, that her point should be repeated everywhere, blogged from website to website the way accounts of the truth used to be smuggled in totalitarian countries.
As Al Gore pointed out in The Assault on Reason, we bloggers, from the mighty Kos to seat pants avocational keyboard bangers such as yours truly, are among the few hopes left to get the truth out.
Speaking of President Gore, aren’t we glad we got suckered in by teh nooz’ narrative of the Vice President as a serial exaggerator (not true) who spoke so abstrusely (why, he probably used words like abstruse!) that his opponent, a regular guy with whom average Joes would like to have a beer was a refreshing change of pace for America?
Jes’ a regular guy who got himself carried through his misspent life on his rich and powerful daddy’s connections. Oh well.
Once upon a time, news was about facts, and the implications of facts. Once news became the profit-driven nooz, ratings rules took over. And what sells like a good story? Narrative became the key to everything.
First rule of fiction: “don’t tell, show.” That is, write action, not explanation. First rule of nooz: “if it bleeds, it leads; if it thinks, it stinks.” Is there any difference? I don’t notice any.
Neither does Mrs. Edwards:
Watching the campaign unfold, I saw how the press gravitated toward a narrative template for the campaign, searching out characters as if for a novel: on one side, a self-described 9/11 hero with a colorful personal life, a former senator who had played a president in the movies, a genuine war hero with a stunning wife and an intriguing temperament, and a handsome governor with a beautiful family and a high school sweetheart as his bride. And on the other side, a senator who had been first lady, a young African-American senator with an Ivy League diploma, a Hispanic governor with a self-deprecating sense of humor and even a former senator from the South standing loyally beside his ill wife. Issues that could make a difference in the lives of Americans didn’t fit into the narrative template and, therefore, took a back seat to these superficialities.
The scary part of nooz-as-narrative, citizen, is that so many voters got sucked into the have-a-beer-with-that-guy narrative in 2000 that they formed a near-majority so close to the real majority that the Florida Republican machine and ultimately, the Supreme Court, could declare the clear loser the winner (and don’t quibble! A fraction of the “Jews for Buchanan” actual Gore votes easily gave Gore Florida!)
For that narrative, here’s what America got.
We are grinding ourselves away in a war of dripping attrition much like the Soviet Union faced in Afghanistan. And as Osama bin Laden bragged to ABC in 1998, what he and his pals did unto the Soviets in Afghanistan, he would see done to the US eventually. Shortly after the Soviet Union left Afghanistan, it went kaput.
We were a moral leader in the world, brokering peace in global trouble spots. Thanks to a stunningly long list of particulars, the Republicans and their Democratic enablers now have as much moral credibility in the world — maybe less — than South Africa’s National Party in the days of Botha.
We were the most prosperous nation in the world. We still may be, but a lot of that prosperity belongs to the haves and have mores. And China. The markers of shared prosperity — pensions, access to health care — are corroding as we become a leading debtor nation with a currency shrinking in value. Ask Argentina how much fun that can be.
I’ll let Mrs. Edwards’ words finish. I can’t say it better, nor even remotely as grciously.
News is different from other programming on television or other content in print. It is essential to an informed electorate. And an informed electorate is essential to freedom itself. But as long as corporations to which news gathering is not the primary source of income or expertise get to decide what information about the candidates “sells,” we are not functioning as well as we could if we had the engaged, skeptical press we deserve.
*I take credit/blame for this neologism. Got a better suggestion?