MARLBORO MUSINGS:  They Still Call It News

Are you as sick of this election stuff as I am?

I just want to get to November 9th as best we can and, hopefully, put all this behind us. Even though, given the nastiness and divisive nature of the campaigns run by these candidates, I fear that date may just be a demarcation for a national tussle of an entirely different nature as we try to come to terms with the fallout from that vote. I guess only time will tell.

But as tired as I am of all the ugly campaign rhetoric, I am even more weary of these narrow-minded, self-serving, soul-selling, starched-shirt, hair-sprayed, arrogant, narcissistic and condescending talking-head know-it-alls that come on my TV in a seemingly endless stream and insult my intelligence by telling me in their patronizing snarky little ways exactly what it is they think I need to know. And nothing more. Excuse me? Truth is, I can barely even watch the air-headed blowhards anymore. I tune them in just often enough to remind myself just how much I dislike watching them. Personally, I get my serious US news from from the BBC out of London via my phone.


It’s a crying shame that I have to turn to Great Britain to get unfiltered news that I can truly trust about my own country. Being a journalist used to set you apart, at least in my book. You were held to a higher standard because you bore the burden of being the bearer of supreme truth. Now we’re not quite so sure anymore. Our confidence has been shaken. And “Uncle Walter” Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow and all those other newscast pioneers must be shaking too, shaking their heads in disgust. I can only imagine what Eric Severeid would say about the “Spin Room,” and can not imagine what Hunter S. Thompson would say about any of it.

But that’s how it goes in the new millennium. These days we’re all hard-wired into the age of I-want-it-now instant information, and seem to have the attention span of a five year-old hopped up on a Jethro Clampett-sized bowl of Frosted Flakes, a couple chocolate-glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts and a Cherry Coke chaser, with the theme from “Barney the Dinosaur” playing in the background as an ice cream truck pulls up. Generally speaking, we’ve also grown to be pretty shallow as a society. If it ain’t on fire, running toward us screaming, or a zombie it seems we really only have about ten seconds for it anymore.

And in a world where almost everyone has access to the internet 24 hours a day, seven days a week—and is often as not a blank and impressionable slate open and willing to embrace someone else’s ideas, valid or not—and anyone with a keyboard and mouse or smartphone can immediately feel empowered and impassioned to spread those thoughts or ideology far and wide, again, whether true or not, it can lead to some diametrically opposed positions and much less than polite exchanges.

There’s really not very much social about social media these days. It’s a minefield. Friendships have been damaged, if not lost, and hard feelings will undoubtedly linger afterward.

Thanks, worldwide web.

I don’t know who will win on November 8th, but I feel fairly certain that the biggest loser in this process will be the American public. It’s pretty clear we’ve already lost our sense of civility toward one another, and it appears that many have also lost their faith in our government to rule our nation in a fair and just fashion, as well as their trust in the media to ferret out the truth and report what they discover in an honest, open, and unbiased manner. You know, like they used to. And still should.

Now, I don’t know about you but it seems to me that this country has some very real problems—crumbling infrastructure, rampant crime, failing educational systems, deficit growth, economic woes, unemployment concerns, rising health care costs, etc—that we really ought to be focusing on. I’ve had about enough of the distractions of this election. I’m at the point where I no longer care about all these allegations of what he said or she said, or she did or he did. As far as I am concerned it’s Joe Friday of “Dragnet” time: “Just the facts, please.” And if you find fire where you say you saw smoke, well to quote another old TV show, then “Book ’em, Danno” and be done with it. Lock someone up or let it be. Indict or just hush about it and let’s move on.

But you know, perhaps there within those two old TV references may lie my problem: I’ve done messed around and got old and miss the old days and old ways. I’m looking back again, back to when a fact was a fact, and a crook was a crook and the good guys in the white hats always won. Or at least they let us go to bed thinking they did anyway.

And speaking of thinking, I miss newspapers, especially big-city newspapers, real newspapers, newspapers that provided so much information they forced you to think thru the issues of the day yourself. There wasn’t anyone to “spin” a story for you; you had to sort it out pretty much on your own. I can even recall when some cities would have a morning and evening edition, so that readers could be made aware of developing stories or be updated on older news. I remember buying two newspapers in one day.

Yep, back before CNN and Fox News and the worldwide web, newspapers were the key source not only for news, but for keeping everyone honest, too. The press enjoys certain constitutional protections exactly for that reason. And unlike today when 24/7 internet news avaialability has forced many newspapers to greatly reduce staffs or even shutter offices and stop their presses for the final time, back then they had ample resources to investigate suspicious activities.

Need an example? One word: Watergate.

Thanks to the faith and confidence editor Ben Bradlee had in them, as well as the direction provided by an undercover informant known as “Deep Throat” (whose true identity, FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, remained secret until 2005) who advised them to “follow the money,” reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of The “Washington Post” were able, by pulling one thread at a time, to unravel a conspiracy that ran from a third-rate burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters all the way into the Oval Office of the White House and ultimately resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Two newspaper reporters forced a President to quit. That’s strong, folks.

If you ever catch it on TV or want to enjoy a really good read, watch or pick up the widely-acclaimed “All The President’s Men,” a recounting of Bernstein and Woodward’s long and winding path, at times even at their own personal peril, as they slowly brought the details behind the Watergate break-in to light and forever changed how Americans would view politics. It’s time well spent.

Their diligence and eventual success has been widely recognized as one of the single greatest reporting efforts of all time. Sadly, it is highly unlikely that will ever happen at a newspaper again. The budget wouldn’t seem to allow it. And we as a nation are worse off for it.

But looking back, I’m struck that the events I’m speaking of happened over 40 years ago now…whew, almost half a century. And technology has changed a little. For the better. I guess. But this new age media sure isn’t geared for the likes of Bernstein and Woodward.

Or me. I still miss Cliff Marcengill calling in reports on local races on WBSC.

Anyway, time flies, and hopefully this election will hustle on by and I can get back to as near normal a life as life allows anymore. And maybe in a couple weeks I’ll be able to get back onto FaceBook and look at cat videos or clips of people falling down or funny sports vines or such, without being bombarded by political memes.

But until then, there’s less than two weeks left before election day and with these two I fully expect them to go full-on thermonuclear on each other, so this oughta be a cheerful little parade. I sure wish I could see a few more folks wearing white hats.

Whatever the case, the MainStream Media is, as we say Down South, “fixin’ to get ready” to blow you “slam out” your chairs in the next dozen days or so, with every statistic and poll and comparison and graphic and color and bombastic language and attitude you’ve ever imagined. Try not to let your head spin around more than once.

Hang on tight, boys and girls. You’re paying for the ticket, so enjoy the ride.


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