Y2OyVeyAs we celebrate the 2000th anniversary of our decision to throw away a perfectly good Jewish calendar, the media as usual is going insane. Journalists love three things: bad news, lists, and free shrimp. Of course, their shrimp-love (the one that dare not speak its name) is kept safely behind the cameras and off the news pages. But evidence of the other two journalistic priorities can be found everywhere.
All of the cable news networks are on high-alert. All the producers at CNNFOXMSNBC will be at their desks. And there will be no Y2K parties for the underwear models and empty suits with important hair who serve as TV anchors. They are ready for anything. As one television producer says about Y2K coverage, “nothing is going to happen and we’re going to cover it like hell!” About five times an hour some TV-head asks a normally responsible terrorism expert, “what is the worst possible scenario you can think of?” The terrorism expert, presented with a choice of saying something responsible but dull or something exciting but reckless, invariably, chooses the reckless.
“Well Chuck, there is an outside possibility that mutant computer monkeys will eat your brains and evil hamsters will try to take over the government.”
“When you say ‘outside possibility,’ do you mean very likely or simply probable? And, is there anything parents can do to prepare for the brain-eating computer monkey threat?”
“Well Chuck, I actually only meant it’s very unlikely.”
“I see, it is very unlikely that there is anything parents can do to prevent Armageddon, thank you very much we’re out of time. Courage.”
It isn’t that something bad might not happen, but it seems that the media is so invested in the possibility of calamity that they are aiding the very people dedicated to disrupting. Right now, if a “terrorist” gives the mayor of Podunk, Arkansas a paper cut, we’ll probably get an “America Held Hostage” marathon of all channels. It is a grand scale equivalent of how the media dispatches dozens of poncho-wearing journalists to the site of hurricane in the vain hope of catching some really good carnage. It’s a simple truism of journalism: the dog that doesn’t bite isn’t news. The millions of planes that land safely don’t get ratings. We should be prepared for the fact that journalism in the 21st century will be driven by the media’s need to find disasters where they aren’t.
Now for the second problem with Y2K coverage: all of these damned lists. Perhaps it is a personal peeve, but while the press has generated every conceivable list possible — “100 Greatest Gastrointestinal Disasters of the 20th Century” (#7 Woody Allen Eats Pork-Jalapeno Burrito — Explodes on Mia Farrow) — it has ignored the greatest human accomplishment of this or any millennium: the United States of America. Its an odd contradiction. On numerous lists Martin Luther King ranks high for his noble efforts at making this country a better place. Time magazine just rated Albert Einstein the man of the century. But Martin Luther King’s accomplishments were notable only because they made America better. Albert Einstein would be just another slave-laborer in the Soviet Union or the Third Reich if it were not for the US.
More importantly, if was not for the United States of America, the very notion that men — and women — could transcend their national, religious, or tribal affiliations would not be possible. Martin Luther King’s success came from appealing to the idea of America, not from rewriting it. The American Revolution was really the central event of a world revolution. Unlike any other nation, the United States is a creation, a construct of human intellect and will, just like the transistor or the birth control pill. And virtually all of the great accomplishments in the two hundred years since the American Revolution, stand on its shoulders. But too many journalists don’t see America as a success story. They see it as a canvas on which to depict the occasional disaster or injustice, be it a hurricane or a hate crime or even brain-eating computer monkeys. And it seems that even if I could offer them all the free shrimp in the world, I wouldn’t be able to persuade them otherwise.