Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Is One Story Worse Than Another?

By Doug Vehle, The Daily Bosco

You might think a recession is a journalists dream: Write the story, then go find someone to interview experiencing the actual horrors you've already written about to make it his story. Listening to the little boy on the CBS radio news recently, I could predict his story is occurring most any day, in any city, at any time in this country. Yet suddenly it's newsworthy, and the journalists are scrambling to present his story, and go home.

You almost don't even need to be told the story. Single mother loses her job, moves with son into motel in bad part of town. The family car is gone, and the unemployment checks soon will be. And the hope is going, too, after several sound bytes that include "We're running out of food. I'm trying to save food. . . ." by not eating, the story concludes with the sound of the little boy crying. We all know this formula well, it's used regularly. And right now, I'm sure numerous would be 'Rescuers' in the Salinas area are searching frantically for the boy and his mother, in their run down motel room.

And as some journalist gets ready to sleep soundly after witnessing this episode first hand, I have to wonder; Is this story really necessary? And do you really think it's somehow more urgent that we hear about this and less urgent we learn about how this has been made unavoidable? If this reporter had foreknowledge of how you might die a horrible death on a certain day, would he report on ways to prevent it, or mark his calendar to be there to cover it?

The post office came in my neighborhood a short time ago for the annual food drive. I really don't know if they hit the whole country on the same day or if they rotate about neighborhoods throughout the year, but on that Saturday I had $100 in cans for them. On Sunday there was a pair oblivious to their timing jumping in front of people walking up to the grocery store to repeat the same emotional rhetoric about woe at each one as they force a bag into the victims' hands. We had them outnumbered, and maybe the look on my face convinced them the other person they could choose at that moment was better prey, but I walked past while they were both up in someone's face with their 'Reporting' of the current need, and I was thinking that not only is the Post Office a more reputable conduit, but I'm always leery when there's such an act to go with it. And I'm not one who believes that 'Give more, more, MORE!' is the answer. I believe it's the problem.

Years back, after the success of the 'Live Aid' concert/telethon in raising over $50 million to deal with hunger in Africa, Willie Nelson staged 'Farm Aid' to stem the foreclosure of the American farms. After it raised $12 million you would expect the farmers to be grateful, but instead came the howls and finger pointing because it wasn't $50 million. In fact somehow they justified an indictment of Willie Nelson for promoting support for solutions that wouldn't require money, alleged as an act of evil that distracted from the 'Give money, give MORE money' mantra that was supposed to work on the heels of 'Live Aid.' And where do they think people will GET more money?

That I want to tell this CBS reporter with the interview of the child, "We know, we knew long before YOU did," doesn't begin to cover it. I want to tell him that he SHOULD be telling us things we don't already know. Instead of going to a cheap motel to confirm the story he knew he could report, he should go to Sacramento and find out WHY Arnold Schwartznegger thought that, at a time like this, he could first take another $1,000 per person every year from us in new taxes and then put a series of initiatives on the ballot asking us to PLEASE give a second $1,000 a year each voluntarily. There is a story I think needs to be reported.

And when you finish with that, could you track down the architects of the George W. Bush tax subsidy to help American manufacturers lay off American workers and export the jobs to China and get them to explain WHY they kept saying 'America will benefit from this?' They never actually told us WHY it was a good thing, and we'd all like to know, now that it sure seems like a BAD thing.

And perhaps this reporter could think he's clever when he says "To know what it's like to be a child in this recession, you have to walk a mile in his size 7 shoes." That's such an incredibly foolish remark, because WE ALREADY KNOW. We never needed his performance art news report to know anything about what's happening to this or any child in a bad spot. We've seen it all before. What we need to know is, why are we doomed to repeat a past we have never forgotten?

We know 'Economic Stimulation' destroys the economy. We know 'Offshoring' destroys the economy. And we know raising taxes destroys the economy. What we don't know is why the politicians are so determined to inflict more hair of the dog that bit us when it's long proven this will only make things worse. I always thought the journalists were supposed to find that out for us.

So why don't the journalists report news? Did the reporter interview this child in 1989? 1969? It was the same story each of those decades, you probably could even find people with the same names. Yes, we know a third of the country is in trouble. Yes, we know it's getting worse. That's not news. Why do journalists think we need them to repeat themselves? If the reporter wins the award he's telling himself he should, will it be dated 1929?

If the knee jerk reaction crowd in Salinas find the mother and son to rain their rescue upon, I would expect they'll find a little different circumstance than what they were looking for. The little boy and his mother I'm sure have received food from the local foodbank, I actually wonder how much effort the reporter had to put into coaching the kid to give him the tearjerker starvation angle. That whole emotionally overwrought scene worked to death by the reporter probably isn't so desperate on any one day as he'd have us believe. And they'll be getting more now that the Post Office has collected it. No, food banks aren't the answer, but they take the bleeding edge off a crisis. It won't find them a better place to stay than that motel, or even keep them there when the unemployment check runs out. Nor will his being interviewed for CBS radio. The reporter sure didn't do anything to make his life better.

I have no idea what people trying to collect food the very next day will do with it, but the real foodbanks already knew there was a Post Office campaign that weekend. But please, no more reporting on phony charities, we've heard that before too. For once, it's time to do something that means something.

What we need to hear about is when is the leadership going to stop meeting Einstein's definition of insanity by making the same mistakes over and over again, promising us a different result this time. So instead of proving to us that Salinas really does have the same problems that we have on our own block, when will the socalled reporters of the news finally start showing us that the leadership just doesn't want to fix anything?

Or can they not figure out how to tell a story if it hasn't been told a thousand times before?

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