Monday, May 02, 2005

The Persistence of the Non-Story Story

In a news week dominated by the Runaway Bride, you would think that nothing of import happened. On the contrary, the world got a shitload scarier. North Korea launched a warhead-capable missile; Iraq got bloodier (again); DeLay remains dirty; and the President continues to push Social Security deform.

Yet, every network continues to run the puff pieces. Jennifer Wilbanks was found alive- huzzah. Why we ever cared at all escapes me, but why we continue to care is simply baffling. And we do care- according to CNN this past weekend, the Wilbanks story was the most read piece online. So naturally, they pushed it on the air. The 24 hour news cycle needs content like a junkie needs junk (thank you, William S. Burroughs). The viewers latch on to non-stories, like Terry Schiavo, the Pope, Jennifer Wilbanks, and now Laura Bush's stand-up routine.

The truth is that everything in this country depends on laziness. Politicians are lazy- "raise the flag and lower the taxes" is easier to sell than fixing the problems. The media are lazy- finding it easier to trump one family's embarrassment into a national circus. Viewers are lazy- the whale in the Delaware and the Michael Jackson trial are easier to follow than the intricacies of foreign relations, or the looming energy crisis.

Democracy depends on an informed electorate, and the role of informer-in-chief has traditionally fallen to the press. However, in an age when the world is absolutely awash in information, we are increasingly ill informed. I am beginning to think that it is by design.

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