As a young, bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed newspaper reporter, I was once chatting with a guy who had been around the journalistic block. I must have been waxing enthusiastic about news reporting because at one point he interrupted me and asked, "Do you know what people read most in newspapers?"
In the short pause between his rhetorical question and the answer that was bound to come, I thought of important national, international and local news stories. But before I got too far down that Yellow Brick Road, he interrupted again with, "Sports, comics and horoscopes."
The answer, based on surveys he cited, left me somewhere between flabbergasted, disgusted and despairing. I suppose the bottom line of my reaction was ego-tripping: I worked pretty hard as a news reporter; I took it seriously; how could anyone fail to see what I imagined I saw so clearly? How could they be so superficial and -- possibly -- stupid?
This morning, as I skimmed the latest news stories, I had to admit that after all these years I too had become what I once mentally inveighed against ... superficiality and stupidity. I don't read comics, it's true. I take a mild interest in sports. And occasionally I read the horoscopes. But the Important Issues of the day strike me increasingly as being too much like the Important Issues of yesterday. It's like reading stories about Israel's frictions with its neighbors -- unending, self-serving, and, while filled with solemnity, lacking in seriousness.
Recently, for example, there has been a dust storm about a New York congressman, Anthony Weiner, who became the cynosure of all journalistic eyes after it was revealed he sent sexually-explicit pictures of himself to various women who were not his wife. Weiner at first denied and then admitted his activities. No one (outside his wife, perhaps) was reported hurt in his internet frolicking. Lost in the prurience with which Americans invest sexual activity was the fact that Weiner apparently had a good legislative record, sticking up for, among other things, a health care bill that affects millions of Americans.
Well, taste is taste, but I really see no reason to place this dust storm in a personal limelight that outshines comics, sports or horoscopes. I may be disappointed that the breadth and width of human capacities should be truncated (I really don't care if this guy fucks door knobs) as a means of assessing his ability to do his job. The whole issue is like criticizing someone who plays golf or collects Hummel figures. When people are hungry or upended by slick men wearing cuff links, what kind of mind worries too much about a man's no-harm-no-foul sexual antics?
And in more serious realms, what kind of mind listens seriously to pontifications that may serve to get someone re-elected, but does demonstrably little to solve any number of thorny problems?
I do hope there are news people -- or any other people for that matter -- out there who have a passing interest in turning over the rocks. And I do hope there are those who consider things with care and in depth. Fewer sincere believers pounding their version of some thin-tea bible and more investigators ... in any field. But as for me ...
Well, maybe a lackluster interest in comics needs revision.