Here's my problem with CNN's cover page. A glance at this screen shot of CNN will document what I believe is the problem with today' cultural environment. Please note big picture and headline of Larry Birkhead, arms raised in celebratory glee. Please note also that, in little tiny letters to the left of the screen, three news items appear regarding an insurgent uprising in Baghdad, Congressional subpoenas issued to the Attorney General's office for documents, and Bush's unwillingness to pull his head out of his ass and deal with the fact that he's already lost his war.
CNN knows what the American people want. And what they want is dead Anna Nicole Smith and her baby and her baby's daddy. What they don't want is Iraqi insurgency. Nor do they pine for discussions of what the attorney general knew and when he knew it, regarding 8 wrongfully dismissed US attorneys. And they especially don't want to hear about the sniping battles between the White House and the Congress when it comes to war funding and landmark withdrawal dates.
The sad fact of it is this: What the American people want to hear is of no fucking relevance whatsoever. The trouble with what happened to the news in the early 80s, when networks and newspapers began turning newsgathering into a for-profit operation is that it forces journalists and editors to tailor stories to suit what people want to hear. Because I gaurantee you that nobody wanted to hear that five little guys broke into and burgalized the Democratic National headquarters in the Watergate building in 1972. Nobody wanted to hear that in 1951 that thirteen black families were bringing a class action suit against the Topeka, KS school board in order to get their children access to the same education to which their white contemporaries were entitled. And I'm pretty damn positive that nobody really cared much when, after a hard day's work, a young black seamstress named Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955.
But news isn't about what people want to know. It's about what they need to know, whether they like it or not. Journalism is -- or should be, at any rate -- about disseminating the truth, however ugly and unappealing it may be. During the first year or two after Watergate broke, I recall several of my mother's Republican friends almost putting their fingers in their ears when a news story would come on television. They didn't want to know. They'd voted for Nixon, trusted him, and they didn't want to know that, far from the strong, empassioned leader he presented himself to be, he was actually just another paranoid, power-mad politician with a foul temper and an even fouler mouth. But the press coverage then didn't care about what Americans wanted to hear. The press then concerned itself with what was news, and a minor break-in which was being covered up at the uppermost levels of government was, for better or worse, news.
There are two prices that we pay for living in a democratic republic. The first is that we pay taxes. We pay taxes, people. It's the price we pay. We pay what we owe -- no more, no less. That's our duty and our responsibility, like it or not. Get over it. The second is that we must be adults and run our government and not let it run us. After 9/11, a vast majority of crybaby scaredycats decided to let George W. Bush be their daddy and protect them from the big, bad world. Aside from the fact that George W. Bush couldn't protect a birthday candle from a strong wind, that is not why we have leadership in this country.
This is why travelling to other countries, especially when one is young, is essential. You realize something when you spend time in Europe. You realize a few things, actually, not the least of which is that European men, while appreciative of a fine pair, are no where near as "beast obsessed" as American men, but that's a subject for another blog post. More importantly, you realize that America is laboring under two major myths.
- Myth No. 1: America is the greatest nation on earth.
- Myth No. 2: There is such a thing as national security.
America as a great nation, a fine nation, a nation full of wonderful qualities and attributes. But the greatest? No. Far from it. When 20% of a country's population currently living below the poverty line are children below the age of 15, when 15% of its citizen are not covered by any health insurance plan (an all-time high, even here), when we remain only one of two industrial nations (the other being Japan) to resort to state-sanctioned killing of its criminals, then, my friends, we abdicate the right to call ourselves the greatest nation on Earth. We are the wealthiest, and we are surely one of the most religious, and in light of that, the above statistics are even more damning.
As for national security, a quick trip through any European airport will clue Americans in on what Europeans have known for decades -- national security is an illusory luxury that intelligent people cannot afford. In 1976, I walked through four European airports (Schriphrol in Amsterdam, Heathrow in London, Leonardo da Vinci in Rome, and Barajas in Madrid) and in every single one of them, there were uniformed security men with large, impressive automatic weapons. It was the days of the Bader-Meinhoff and the IRA and Europeans knew that, if the threat didn't come from some outside alien influence, it would certainly come from inside. It could happen in a pub, or on a train or in a marketplace. Precautions were taken, but they did not amount to security. There is no such thing. We are, and always have been, in constant danger of attack. September 11th wasn't a fluke -- it was inevitable, partially because of our hubris and lack of awareness, and partially because such things happen everywhere, so it is insanity to assume that they won't happen here.
These are the bad tidings that Americans need to hear. We are good, but not perfect. Terrible things are happening every day that require our immediate attention. And the time has come for us to stop looking to be taken care of, and start looking to take care. We need to start caring for our children, and our sick and elderly, and we need to wise up and quit acting like cowboys on the open plain. It's the job of journalists to tell us things we find hard to hear, and its our job to hear it.
The big, bad world from which you're seeking protection is the place where we live. That bad news you've been hiding from is actually a good thing -- because it gives us a chance to try and fix the thing that's broken, whether its the weather, or the war, or the White House. The one thing that Americans are really good at is fixing broken stuff and making it work (especially after we're the ones who've broken it). But we can't fix what we don't see, and that's where ugly news comes in.
So, toughen up, America. Embrace the bad news. Put down the copy of Star and the New York Post, and start checking out news sources where Anna Nicole is a page three story, tops. You won't be sorry in the long run.