Wednesday, August 8, 2012

22 Seconds!

A rodeo rider must stay on the back of a bull for a slight 8 seconds to qualify for the prize. A Jeopardy contestant has 30 seconds in which to answer the final jeopardy question correctly. Between those two numbers stretches 22 seconds. Just 22 seconds. Enough time to blink at least five times. Enough time to breathe in four times. Enough time for a healthy, fit heart to beat 22 times.

In five blinks of an eye, four inhalations, and twenty-two beats, you will see and hear everything that local news stations, as represented by Los Angeles, believe you want and need to know about government, including budgetary matters, law enforcement, education, and transportation, each of which is a complicated, complex topic that canNOT be analyzed or understood in 22 seconds. But that’s all that local news devotes to such issues (Martin Kaplan, USC Norman Lear Study.

Wouldn’t it be more accurate to call the local news Your Local Crawler Feed Recitation? In 22 seconds, that’s really all a news anchor can accomplish, isn’t it? He can read the headlines or the blurbs that crawl across the screen, and you will know as much as any headline or crawler feed provides: light, slight knoweledge, yet that’s what most voters take with them into the polling booth. Sound bites. Snippets. Crawler feeds. Headlines. 22 seconds of information.

Unless, of course, John Q. Voter reads to supplement his knowledge and understanding. But a Harvard study cited suggests that only 1 in 20 teens and 1 in 12 adults read print news somewhat regularly, but not necessarily daily ( That means that the teen rate of becoming informed is greater than voter fraud rates. Teens read about 0.05% of the time, but only 0.00004% of voters entering voting booths cheat.

I’m not comfortable with such little knowledge in the hands of so many, but I’m not sure where to point the finger of blame. Shall I resign myself to the busy, busy schedules and plethora of time-dumps available to us, forgiving you and me for not reading enough, for not being well enough informed to discern the truth and challenge the disinformation? Shall I give up on one of the fundamental principles of democracy: the principle of a well-armed voter?

Or should I blame the purveyors of information and disinformation? Could they change the fabric of the nation, stitching its holes and repairing its snags, if they spent more time dissecting and reporting the facts of issues that affect our lives? I think they could if they eschewed news as titillation and entertainment, preferring to take up the very real labor intensive and somewhat more expensive role of unbiased educator.

Programs masquerading as news invite us to tweet our preferences for one wedding gown or another so that the couple of the summer will receive a dream wedding, soon to be broadcast across the land. On Fridays, more than 22 seconds will be dedicated to the latest heart throb in the musical industry striving to become a pop rock icon. On an outdoor stage, the news anchors all breathless will join in to watch Brittany Spears or Justin Bieber make another comeback after releasing another album. These programs will also alert me to style changes, clever coupon buys, gifts for every occasion, crafts, food prep and more, all the while pimping for programming debuting later on that very network.

For the serious news programs, I can listen to one interviewer after another ask the same question of the news flapper of the moment. He or she will repeat an answer quite like the answer of the guy appearing the day before as if each has dutifully swallowed Huxley’s Soma, a drug that removes all traces of doubt and dissatisfaction. Some folks, when pressed by a reporter to say more, to say something real, to say anything at all, end up resembling mechanical dolls, wound up to spit out just one answer:

·      I apologize. That’s all I have to say on the subject, or
·      Main Street, not Wall Street, or
·      Small businesses are the life-blood of this nation, or
·      Hangers-on just need to get up off the couch and get a job, or . . .

Well, you see the direction in which this drifts. It drifts to sound-bites, headlines, and crawler feeds.

I want more. I need more. I want to know who’s paying for the political ads. I need to know who’s winding up those mechanical dolls and programming them with phrases. I want to know how we will solve the problems that plague us, problems such as poverty and hunger. I don’t need to know the location of every convenience store robbed in order to know that police in my community are well worth my tax dollar. I want to know how better to support law enforcement. I need to know how to combat the fires that come with our annual drought here in the Heartland. I want to know that my neighbor can heal when he grows sick, and I need to know how we as a nation can help him heal. These are the issues that matter to me: personal safety, the public welfare, health, and liberty so that I can pursue happiness. I need more than 22 seconds, and I think real news extending beyond 22 seconds may be a good beginning.