"I read the news today, oh boy . . . "
I've been a news junkie ever since grade school, or grammar school, as we called it, loving what was then termed Current Events as my favorite subject. The afternoon Stamford Advocate would be delivered the same precise time every day, it seemed. 4:26. My father came home from the shop at precisely the same time every day, 4:14. My brother and I would listen for the soft thwinnnk of the Advocate being placed between the screen door and the front door of our apartment in the William C. Ward Homes. The Projects. Jack and I would race to the door, open it, and fight to surrender the paper to my father, to place it, as if it were an offering, on our dad's footstool. An unspoken protocol prohibited grabbing and reading the paper before Dad had had first dibs. Then Jack and I would wait like cats to pounce on the paper when Dad would casually finish each section and place it on the footstool. As much as I was a news junkie, let's be honest: Jack and I both were vying for the fiercely coveted second section: Sports.
I went on to work as a copy editor at a daily, from September 1976 to February or March 1979. Great atmosphere: surly, hard-boiled, intense, witty, competitive. Filled with characters. Smart folks. Hard-working. Competent. Whiskey bottles kept in drawers. The ring of Teletype machines. Headlines written by hand. Something strange on desks: VDTs, or video display terminals. We did not think of them as computers or PCs. I even obnoxiously smoked a cigar on the rim sometimes and for fun wore one of those vinyl newspaperman visors seen in movies.
Now, I wonder. News? Hard to take. I don't mean just the string of endless tragedies. That's always been part of the news game. No, I mean something like this: 1984. LIES ARE TRUTH. WAR IS PEACE. That sort of Orwellian nightmare. Maybe, in my mind it started with the Swift Boat campaign of 2004 [was it 2004] that discredited John Kerry's reputation as a hero through lies and distortion. Forget about whether you supported him or the Vietnam War. It was the fact that "the media," "the press," now saw fit to give lies the same footing as truth. Rumor got the same attention as news. We'd been Drudged. Tabloided. McPapered. Under some sort of perversion of the Fairness Doctrine, every crackpot theory got equal play with reason and sobriety. And it only got wackier. Want a war? Enter: the media passing along unsubstantiated hysteria perpetrated by the government about alleged "weapons of mass destruction" and "terrorism." The so-called august New York Times, a year later, 2004, apologized to its readers for abdicating its role of healthy skeptic. The tease was on A1. The rest of the story was buried on A17 or wherever. You can look it up. And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut [met him, with my son, Ethan; another story, another time] would put it. Vaccines. Creationism. Global warming. Birthers. Bailout. Stimulus. You name it. LIES ARE TRUTH. News? What's that? Whatever works to grab attention. This is not whining or whingeing that "my take," my perspective, is getting short shrift. No, it is lamenting that utter quackery and poppycock share the front pages with sober renderings and analyses of complex issues.
Hard to take.
It's enough to shut off the news, whether online or in print or on TV -- as I do when I'm at camp.
Of course, that raises the solipsistic question about care, concern, and commitment about the State of Affairs, as if "knowing the facts" itself is a power, is a tool of democracy. (It should be.) As if carrying the burden of knowledge was a redemptive gesture.
It should be.
Is that day gone, as gone as the idyllic image of the 1950s described above?