Saturday, January 24, 2009


The Curse Of The 24-Hour News Cycle

The tragic result of the way news sloshes over us, particularly from the U.S. media led by CNN, is that too many of us became bored with Barack Obama before he was sworn in as president.
That doesn't mean we're hostile. Hardly! I hope, for the sake of all of us, that he, and the people he has picked, succeed. But as someone who regularly reads American newspapers and watches a lot of American TV, it's become all too much.
From the monologues of Leno and Letterman to the comedy shows of Stewart and Colson to the endless interviews on CNN that have the usual suspects commenting endlessly on the president in between all the footage of what he has just done 30 seconds ago - even if it was just to drive somewhere - you start to long for a Barack break.
And then you turn to all the stories in the Times and the Journal and U.S.A. Today and the onslaught begins again.
But, of course, they have to fill all that time and space with something. And it's not all that unusual for there not to be much new in the news. So what we've been getting is quantity, not quality.
Once I had the job of "follows" to the political coverage in the final edition. So then the next day's editions could start with some new angle on top of a recitation of what we had just printed. That was when I learned the dirty secret that turns grey the hair of the news bosses. Most news stories are about 97% old with some slim new angle produced in desperation so that some film could be used or a page could be readied for the press room. This hasn't changed just because there are all-news radio and TV stations, which regurgitate the same thing three times an hour in the middle of the night.
I think it is wonderful that Obama became president. He was by far the best candidate out of all that endless endless election stuff. I worry about some of his policies because for some reason I have always liked Republican policies more than Democratic ones, but I've liked the Democratic candidates more than the Republican ones. A strange split!
And it is great that an African-American with such a humble, confused start, has become the president. But since I was told that at least once a minute for the last three months, I now regard it as part of the Chinese water torture approach to American presidential politics. (As someone who thought John Diefenbaker championed a fundamental and refreshing approach when he crusaded to take the hyphen out of Canadianism, I dislike the idea of always saying you're a Polish-Canadian or a Ukrainian Canadians or an African-American. I'm glad there was hostility in the Maritimes about the attempt to have citizens identified as African Canadians there. Nope, we're Canadians or Americans without any divisive hyphens and those who always want to shove a hyphen in there are memorializing a bitter past.)
I kept quiet about the fact that the Barrack barage was turning me off just when we needed decisive and wise decisions from him to help solve a second Great Depression that will leave scars for generations. But then I confessed this at a lunch with two Canadians, one of them famous, who have served at the top levels of politics. And they agreed with me. And together we worried that there may be a backlash over this just when the American president will need stout support from everyone, not just the strategists who now bore us eternally on CNN, not just the throngs before him as he took the oath.
You see, I have written about politics for half a century . I know from my neighbours at home and the cottage, and from all the people who wonder what you do for a living when they're killing time in the sun in Florida or Cuba, that most people really don't care much about politics. We see that from election turnouts. We see that from the fact that pollsters will tell you that most people hang up when you try to talk to them about politics. When politicians knock on doors, only half of them open.
I have been at parties where I pretended I worked in an office because most people had already indicated rather graphically what they thought about politics and politicians. I have sat on the subway and watched most people skip past the political columns. I found in more than 5,000 columns that any time I wrote about fishing or family I got far more reaction and interest than anything I said about politics.
I remember 25 years ago, after I had been travelling in Russia or China and was starved for news, how avidly I devoured everything CNN had to say. Now you turn to such cable coverage and you find that we are now supposed to be interested in looking at helicopters or jets sitting on the runway before some simple trip by a president.
It's lazy journalism. Concentrating on a president even when he was just cutting brush on a pretend ranch is an easy way to fill space. It's hardly investigative journalism. And what we have discovered is that if the North America media had spent more time probing hedge funds and CEOs and huge corporate profits, we might have learned before it was too late that most of the business elite didn't have a clue as to what they were doing. It's simple to bash politicians, but much more difficult to follow the money and trace just how it is that the world now owes far more money than all the countries of the world have been making each year.
Just where has the money gone? If a bank, for example, loses $50 billion, the billions must have gone somewhere. So where?
If someone loses a million dollars in the stock market, other investors collect that million dollars. The million doesn't evaporate. It isn't dumped into an acid bath.
It turns out that if the American media had spent more time over the last years investigating the storm clouds over their economy rather than the endless shallow presidential coverage, there might have been a chance to prepare for this ugly technical reality that all their banks are broke. The economy has been a house of cards, and wet cards at that, and most of their business elite have been trying not to collapse the cards before they get all their bonuses out.
I have often written that the old days often weren't that good. Just look at all the great advances.
Why governments can just print all the money they want and to hell with inflation.
And before people got fussy, you didn't need a down payment to buy a home.
People are no longer stuck in jobs for life.
And the banking world hasn't been that complicated because no one knew what in heck was going on and that they were trading incomprehensible paper.
Oh yes, there have been huge increases from the good old days, particularly with our debt. Brother, can you spare a billion!

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