13 November 2011

All the News That's Fit?

For a week or so now the front pages of the newspapers have been filled with the allegations against Herman Cain who has been accused of sexual harassment, and the scandal at Penn State that has now cost Joe Paterno his job, the kidnapping of a baseball player in Venezuela, and the sudden divorce of Kim Kardashian after 24 days of marriage.  Oh, yes, there have been steady reports on the financial crisis in Europe and the fall of the Berlusconi and Papandreou governments in Italy and Greece respectively, but I hear in these reports a tone of derision and contempt. As if our economy isn’t in shambles and our behavior can in no sense be adjudged complicit with the economic turmoil now besetting Europe. As if we have managed our affairs with skill and concern for the welfare of our citizenry. As if our policies are above reproach.
But the front pages remain consumed with sex scandals. Themselves absurd, newspapers are replete with absurdities. George Bernard Shaw noted that “Newspapers are unable, seemingly to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization.” Henry David Thoreau held a very low opinion of newspapers. In his journal Thoreau advises, “Do not entertain doubts, if they are not agreeable to you. Send them to the tavern. Do not eat unless you are hungry; there’s no need of it. Do not read the newspapers.” For Thoreau, the newspapers were filled with idle gossip that was not worth the paper on which it was printed or the time it would take to even glance at it. He said,  “I do not know but it is too much to read one newspaper in a week.” Of course, a single newspaper contains all of the week’s news, though sometimes (but not always) the names do daily change. American writer A.J. Liebling said, “People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news.” For Thoreau, the news took one away from what was, in fact, important: the wealth of the day. After all, who wants yesterday’s papers, and yet that is what newspapers offer: the events that occurred yesterday and will certainly happen tomorrow again. Thoreau bemoaned the time spent on the news asserting that our attention to them was a symptom of the emptiness of our internal lives. He says, “In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away [from the post office] with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while.” Sometimes all a person knows is what he reads in the Daily News.
A story is told: Once, a foreign journalist came to America to do a series of articles on the quality of life of the workers. After all, the United States has served as the Promised Land for countless dreamers and believers. Give us your tired and your poor, your sick of heart. Of course, it took the reporter some time to find a worker, most of the jobs having been either transferred out of the country or become non-existent in this most recent economic crisis. Finally, at a local Wal-Mart store, the correspondent approached what the company likes to call an associate.

“Do you find your job rewarding?” he asked.
Ah, that is very good. And what is your home like?”
“Oh, it is affordable, spacious, and clean.”
Indeed, the journalist was becoming not a little envious. “And during your time off, how do you spend your leisure.”
“Oh, we go often as a family to theater or to the opera. Several evenings a month I attend evening classes, and on the weekends I spend a great deal of time with my family, my friends and colleagues.”
“Do you read the newspapers?”
“Well, of course, I do,” the associate responded indignantly, “How else would I know how to answer all of your stupid questions?”


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