Friday, May 18, 2012

Mitt Romney's hair

Mitt Romney and his hair
Here in the United States, Mitt Romney is hoping to be the next Republican president of the country. Mitt Romney's hair is perfect -- long and combed and carefully kept above his angular, handsome face. Mitt Romney's hair makes me think of the news media and their carefully-coiffed adventures.

When I first went into news reporting, it was with the perhaps naive assumption that the mission of the news was to turn over the rocks that readers (or viewers) simply did not have the time or skills to turn over. News was courageous on behalf of the body politic -- the citizens who peopled a democracy. An informed electorate was a badge of free-country honor and the media's job was, in part, to burnish that badge. News wasn't in the business of saying yes -- it was in the business of viewing what might be widely approved with skepticism and through a different lens. If civil rights was a good thing, what were its negative aspects? If marriage between a man and a woman constituted marriage, what were the positive aspects of same-sex marriage? If patriotism on behalf of one war or another was good, what negative prices did that patriotism pay? If anti-war activists rallied and railed, to what extent did they pay unnamed prices? News wasn't in the business of being right or wrong -- it was in the business of being as fully factual as possible. If abortion rights were compelling, what were the facts about a single, ostensibly simple procedure?

News was contrarian and imaginative and challenging at its foundations. As Walter Cronkite once observed, "News isn't about how many cats did not get up on the garage roof."

Now -- am I imagining this or is it true? -- news has become as neat and self-serving as Mitt Romney's hair. If there is a bandwagon, the media will be first in line to jump on board. Opinion -- left or right, no difference -- is woven without shame into tale-telling. "Infotainment" brings home the advertising bacon. The electorate absorbs what is provided because, as ever before, they simply haven't got the time or skills to do the work. In hard economic times, it is easier and cheaper to entertain than to dig and sift and bring facts to bear. Embedded reporters are OK. Reporters refuse to challenge for fear they will be cut off from a news source. Four or five people with hair every bit as beautiful as Romney's sit around a table to agree with each other about a topic that no one really wants to challenge because that would mean hard work ... and spending money. Even in the entertainment world, networks rely on what is bright and cheerful fiction. Sixteen of the 36 television shows planned for next season are sitcoms. Serious drama is, well, too serious ... and expensive.

The other day, I was flabbergasted to note that, although the Associated Press had a story about it, still other outlets remained mute (or maybe it was buried somewhere ... one thing's for sure, it wasn't front and center) about a judge who had struck down some of the provisions in a bit of terrorist legislation that abrogated American civil rights. Even when I tried to look it up on the Associated Press web site, I couldn't find it ... find this contrarian view of what is being sold as patriotic.

Mitt Romney's hair. The emperor's new clothes. The flag-wavers' convention. 'News' outlets with little or no sense of shame.

And here I sit indulging in the same sort of opinionated, relatively well-coiffed rant-and-rave.

In my own defense, I will say, this is a blog and I would never think of trying to pass it off as news. Aside from anything else, my hair is too messy.

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