Ninety minutes you won’t get back

Last winter, during one of our infrequent snowstorms, a local station sent one of its reporters out in a vehicle—some Rube Goldberg contrivance disguised as a Jeep Wrangler, equipped with mobile radar, wi-fi, and all kinds of weather instruments. (I think I saw, in the background, an espresso maker and a sauna bucket.) The whole idea of mobile radar seems self-defeating, since radar is usually employed to track moving objects. If both objects are moving, wouldn’t they just explode?

Maybe my science is wrong, but I know this much: the report consisted of nothing more than (1) warnings to stay off the highways because they were becoming snow-covered, and (2) a view through slapping windshield wipers of a highway that was, indeed, becoming snow-covered. A similar view was available out my window.

This particular station, along with others, devotes ninety minutes each evening to the local news; yet, when it snows, or storms, or threatens anything meteorologically aberrant, it allots at least ninety percent of those ninety minutes to weather—an admission that either they don’t have ninety minutes worth of news every day or the station is not really in the news business.

I’m going with the latter—which is not exactly (sorry) news. We all know it. CNN, Fox News, MSNBC—they’re in the entertainment business. And the major networks are no better. It’s hard to blame them, not when they’re contesting Access Hollywood and ET for the “news” viewer.

I had this discussion last weekend with a journalist friend of mine. He actually teaches journalism in high school and still believes in it, and though neither of us could find anything to be overly optimistic about, we both agreed that the future of a prosperous America lies in an educated citizenry, and that an educated citizenry depends upon newspapers. It’s no mystery why Donald Trump has declared war on the print media—good reporters uncover the truth and publish it. Trump has already threatened to rescind First Amendment rights, to “get” reporters he doesn’t like—tactics that are bound to motivate good journalists even more. Hasn’t he read All the President’s Men? Doesn’t he remember David Brinkley’s reassuring comment? Numerous politicians have seized absolute power and muzzled the press. Never in history has the press seized absolute power and muzzled the politicians. 

With so much of significance being uncovered by the Washington Post and the N.Y. Times, and so little being uncovered by Jeep Wranglers, broadcast journalists have been exposed as purveyors of fluff who, in emergencies like Sandy Hook, put on their journalist caps and leave them on only until the next three-legged dog befriends a goat. Or, similarly, when Donald Trump makes a statement. But (and here my friend and I disagree) I think the end is in sight—I think print journalism, especially the long, in-depth, 2000+ word articles in the Times, New Yorker, other sources, will continue to embarrass its impostor of a cousin until TV news harks back to its roots—To Cronkite and Brinkley and the like. Or maybe I just hope so, because then we can become a nation that recognizes idiocy and racism and bluster for what they are—not fresh ideas to lead us forward but lunatic ramblings to hold us back.

Incidentally, it isn’t snowing today. The roads are not snow-covered. Spend that ninety minutes wisely.

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