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What Do We Know That We Didn't Know Yesterday?


Back in the 1950’s, when I was a kid, the only day that mattered between Labor Day and Christmas Day was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. That was the day they played the Army-Navy game, which made it a day that really mattered.

Do you think that the day which was the 2nd Tuesday in November and was the day when they held the mid-term election every four years was an important day? I don’t remember anyone ever talking about it at all.

And don’t get me wrong. My parents and their friends were always politically involved. They voted regularly, they discussed political issues at work and at home. But they got the political news from the two newspapers that were delivered each day (New York Times in the morning, New York Post in the afternoon) plus my father listened to the radio on the way to work and watched the national news on black-and-white TV when he was home.

My father read, watched, and listened to the news, because my mother only began working as a high school teacher, in 1964. Until then, she got together every day over coffee with several other stay-at-home moms, and they gossiped about the kids or about other friends.

That’s how people got the news when I was a kid, and it was assumed that if it was printed in The New York Times or if Walter Cronkite said it on CBS, that it was true. And the reason what they read, heard, and watched was true, was because in those days the radio and TV news, in particular, was regulated by the government, and news reportage was considered to be a public service and had to follow certain rules.

Those rules, involving such things as how many minutes had to be spent on news rather than advertising and whether news programs could be considered as revenue-generating programming were abolished during the Reagan Administration. Once the mass media began shifting away from TV and radio and embracing the internet as a vehicle for reporting the news, even the slightest attempt at newsworthy objectivity or balance disappeared.

The one slight exception to this trend, believe it or not, is programming on National Public Radio (NPR), which has long been a target of eight-wing angst because its not-for-profit status is considered to be a vestige of the Communist-Socialist hangover from the olden days.

The reason that NPR survives the budget ax of the GOP’s craziest members, however, is because in farm states, public radio stations still broadcast with the largest amount of wattage, so their weather reports can be heard even in the most remote parts of these states and can be used to alert local communities to incoming tornadoes and storms.

Look what’s happening on the news media today. It’s too early to know the final results of yesterday’s votes, but it appears to be the case that even if the GOP reclaims both the Congressional chambers, the vaunted ‘red wave’ will end up as a trickle at best. But the narratives about the titanic GOP victory were never news – they were nothing more than PR statements issued by various Republican-controlled campaign operatives or by GOP candidates themselves.

In my book, such stories aren’t news. They’re hot air and Americans must have a lot of free time if they can be bothered to listen to an interview with Kari Lake who says that after she’s elected Governor of Arizona, she will spend the next four years ‘reforming’ the media by ‘taking a sledgehammer to the mainstream media’s lies and propaganda,’ as well as making sure that critical race theory isn’t taught in public schools.

If the residents of Arizona want to pay this goofball a salary to behave this way for the e next four years, to quote Grandpa, ‘a be gezunt’ (read: whatever….) If nothing else, what such reportage tells me is that when I was a kid, there really were some serious news events which needed to be discussed in honest and newsworthy ways.

I’m thinking, for example, about the Korean War, which went on for three years and cost nearly 34,000 American lives. From the 2003 invasion until today, that’s just short of 20 years, the U.S. has suffered 4,600 casualties in Iraq.

I’m not trying in any way to denigrate the sacrifices made by American troops who fought and lived or died in Iraq. But Korea was a real war, and one which, if anything, deserved more news coverage than it got.

The point is that today, this country is so strong, and so stable, and so wealthy that even something as dreadful and serious as Covid-19 was reduced from a fatal contagion to a serious, but controllable public health problem in less than six months, once we actually had someone in the Oval Office who was concerned about something other than how many internet users read his tweets.

Kim Jung-un shoots off a couple of missiles and this is supposed to represent some kind of threat?

When all is said and done, if a real catastrophe doesn’t occur, or if you can’t make one up, you quickly run out of issues to report as ‘news.’ Which is why what now passes as news is nothing more than the same kind of gossip my mother used to share over coffee with her friends.

Did we learn anything new from yesterday’s vote? We learned that yesterday isn’t the catastrophe that the Fake News has been predicting would occur. And the good news, the best news of all, is that Maura Healey beat her opponent for Massachusetts Governor by a two-to-one spread.

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