As a former working journalist and now a writer of fiction and non-fiction, I felt the time was right to give all of you listeners out there the lowdown on how the media functions.
Courses in journalism obviously focus on the facts, teach how to construct the opening paragraph which is to list the object of the report along with some tag lines that rope the reader in so that he or she will continue reading until the next paragraph, hoping to get more facts that were only alluded to or written to titillate in the opening salvo. Fair enough.
Armed with a degree and the starry-eyed objective of becoming a household name who is fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time, there is always that remote possibility of winning a prize for reporting on something either better than anyone else or that no one else knew in time to scoop your own piece. Of course, the Hollywood of journalists is the television reporter who gets to tell a story backed by internecine uprisings, hostage situations, or just plain old natural disasters. The ultimate television journalist is no longer the “anchor” but rather the Anderson Cooper who is everywhere all the time there is something spectacular happening.
Take this latest disaster in the making and by the way, in the making for the last several days when Hurricane Irene hit the Bahamas and began her way up the East Coast of the United States, battering a bunch of southern states. Even FEMA got into the act with dire warnings and predictions all, in my opinion, because they and mostly everyone else screwed up Katrina to the point of shame and disgrace. But here’s what you did not know. One of the most crucial courses in Journalism 101 is the grave expression. It is done like this: a slight shake of the head, slightly narrowed eyes, furrowed brows, and an imperceptible quake in the voice. The teleprompter reads something like this, as in the case of poor old battered-herself, disappointing Irene. “She is barreling along the East Coast and will hit at 10 AM, predicted to be a 4, with massive damage and high winds in excess of 120 miles an hour, and rain of up to 20 to 24 inches. Wow!
We left our city apartment (coincidentally only one block from Zone A in New York City, to speed up to the country to secure our outdoor furniture—glass included—and make sure that our house was buckled up against poor old Irene. In constant touch with friends in the city, and fielding calls from friends in Paris, France, we arrived at our country house to find glorious sunshine, muggy weather, and nary a slight breeze. That was yesterday. We dragged glass tables and furniture and surveyed huge trees to see, based on the calculations of the meteorologists and other weather pundits, of the direction of the wind, if there was the risk of those trees crashing into our house or barn. Hard to tell. The word on the screen and in the papers was that this was one time when the wind was coming from all directions to form some kind of a deadly funnel that would destroy everything in its path – north, south, east, west.
My husband who is from the South and has lived through many hurricanes back in the 60s and 70s when hurricanes were serious business (you know, before Al Qaeda and Khadaffi and Saddam, and massacres at high schools) instructed me to buy flash lights, candles, double D batteries, and, get this, cans of Dinty Moore stew. No problem up until I read the Dinty Moore part on his list. As an aside, let me just say that in 1985, he showed up at my apartment in New York City during the last “monster hurricane” with rope, a miner’s cap with a light, water, flash lights and every other bit of hurricane paraphernalia he could find to “save” me. I was amused to say the least and he was incensed that I did not take the warnings seriously. Anyway, this time around, I put on my former journalist’s serious face and trudged out to the market to buy everything on the list, including a new product that Dinty Moore offered which was dumplings and chicken which, by the way, I wouldn’t feed to my dogs let alone my husband.
We are armed to the hilt, so to speak, sitting here in the country, with an array of crystal candle sticks on our counter in the kitchen, flashlights poised on every table in every room—and this is a very big house—gallons of water, along with a generator in case power goes out and we have to preserve our food in the refrigerator. So far, there are a few drops of rain but frankly this is several hours after the deluge was meant to hit.
Call me cynical but I never believed that poor old Irene would really wreak havoc in New York City—Long Island, the Jersey Shore, parts of Brooklyn and other spots near the water, OK—but not in the actual city of New York.
Nothing is black or white so let’s give some credit to those disaster pundits and meteorologists and even some of those students of Journalism 101’s method of communicating the end of the world. But it got me thinking about what I have always sort of known all along. The attention span of the viewer or listener is probably not much longer than the shelf life of a banana. Back in my day, there were real stories to report—wars, uprisings, massacres, terror attacks, sabotage etc. There were and are also far too many human tragedies that turn the stomach and rob us of faith that all mankind and womankind has some glimmer of humanity. Based on this latest reporting of Irene, however, I am convinced of the following truths in some of the most current news stories.
- Saddam Hussein was pulled out of that hole, relieved of his lice, and shipped off to Monte Carlo where he is a croupier in a casino. The revolution in Iraq would have happened anyway given the many religious factions and certainly aided and abetted by American interference.
- Moammar Khadaffi mailed in his retirement letter weeks ago and is in Tuscany with his wives and children. Riots there are based on anger that the world forgave him for Lockerbee.
- Dinty Moore stew is passed off as Boeuf Bourgogne in some of the best French restaurants in New York City.
- Dominique Strauss Kahn is divorcing Anne Sinclair and marrying Diallo (his alleged victim), a plan that was hatched by the Socialist party in France months ago to show that they are not at all racist against their former Francophone population. The plan was also hatched to show how the United States is a “rush to judgment” country that tries to bend over backwards to treat people of color decently given our history of segregation and slavery.
- Contrary to public opinion, Anderson Cooper’s family’s wealth comes from the manufacturing of flashlights, bottled water, and double D batteries.
No doubt I am taking a risk writing this. Perhaps I shouldn’t tempt fate. Don’t think it hasn’t occurred to me that when my husband and I return from dinner this evening at a lovely restaurant bordering the upper Hudson River, Irene may just have flexed her muscles and made sure every huge tree on our property has crashed into our house. But I stop myself. After all, I am not one of those people who apologizes to house guests if the weather is bad. Not my fault! Blame those disaster pundits and meteorologists.