The people “vetting” our election haven’t been “vetted” themselves.
Try this thought on for size…
The reporters we knew and admired when we were young were educated in journalism and many of them served in the Army covering WWII. They invented broadcast news and had combat experience with average American soldiers all over the world. That experience gave them a keen sense of official BS and they weren’t afraid of the risks it took to get the story and send some truth home. They felt they owed it to the humble people they served to get it right. They knew how to tell a story.
See where I’m going?
While you’re following John’s thoughts about storytellers and stories (and please do: it’s a good thread), a few thoughts about the nature of the latter, and what any journalist, regardless of reputation and talent, will have a hard time telling.
In this post about journalism, I wrote,
The basic job of newspaper reporters is to write stories. In simplest terms, stories are interesting arrangements of facts. What makes stories interesting are: 1) protagonists (persons, groups, teams, “issues” or causes); 2) a struggle, problem or conflict of some sort; and 3) movement forward (hopefully, by not necessarily, toward a conclusion). Whether or not you agree with that formulation, what cannot be denied is the imperative. Stories are made to be interesting. It is not just coincidental that this is a purpose they share with advertising.
The story in WWII (John’s example, above) was a simple one. There were good guys (us, the Allies) and bad guys (the Axis powers). Countless war stories — good ones — came out of WWII. Those stories — along with stories about The Depression that preceded The War — were the prevailing narratives around dinner tables for kids growing up in the Fifties, when broadcast journalism was maturing under the influence of Fred Friendly, Edward R. Murrow and other exemplars. Wars won by everybody working together, and suffering through hardships, as happened with WWII, had many positive effects on the country and its citizens. Our fathers’ experiences in “the service” (as they called it then) during WWII made instant friends of countless strangers who had similar experiences. People meeting for the first time, regardless of class and race differences, often found common bonds in the ritual of exchanging data about membership and service in various military branches, divisions, boats, and battle fronts.
Our parents’ sacrifices gave them great moral authority — and of a kind that none of the succeeding generations would achieve again. Tom Brokaw was right to call our parents The Greatest Generation. They rose to the challenge, but they were also cast in the role.
Same with journalistic veterans of the same war.
Not only have we lost that whole generation of WWII journalists, plus many (or most) of the best of those that followed as well. Meanwhile, there is more journalism than ever, and much of it is good. Just harder to find, or to follow, in the midst of so much other stuff. Many more needles, much bigger haystack.
But the bigger problem is the lack of a single narrative, much less a heroic one. Worse, there is a narrative that needs to be woven, yet has few if any weavers, because it is not a happy one. That narrative is the inevitable decline of Pax Americana, and of our country’s ability to lead the world in the manner to which it has becomed accustomed, and which is proving ever more delusional.
This new narrative is required not only because the U.S.’s percentages of the global economy and populations are shrinking, and not only because its recent president(s) had foreign policy failures, but because what’s “super” about U.S. superpower — a near-limitless ability to make high-technology war, backed by a fighting force of finite size with few allies — is an anachronism. And it would still be an anachronism if most of the world didn’t already consider our approach to foreign relations tragic and absurd.
I’m not sure the people of any Great Nation are ever ready to face the fact that the height of their military and economic powers has passed. Or that the leadership they most need to assert is no longer only a military and economic one. But I am sure that we need leadership — journalistic as well as political — that is anchored in our true and enduring strengths as a people and as a polity.
The U.S. still stands best, and most credibly, for essential values the rest of the world desperately needs to respect: freedom, liberty, democracy, suffrage of women and minorities, and rule of law, to name just a few. The high value we place on eduction, on caring for others, on self-sacrifice, on economic well-being, on the worth of individuals, on respect for land and resources — the list goes on — are also ready-built platforms for leadership in the world.
I don’t know how to frame that new leadership narrative, much less express it. The best advice I’ve seen so far comes from George Lakoff and The Rockridge Institute; but we’re in a partisan season, and they’re naturally taking sides, lately on behalf of Barack Obama.
I believe Obama is in the best position to craft this new narrative, that his aspriational rhetoric has the best chance of transcending the partisan boundaries that divide us. But right now each remaining candidate’s focus is on beating each other rather than facing the challenge of changing our role in the world.
Obama and his people need to fight for the next nine months, and it’s likely that his rhetoric, no matter how well-expressed, will be mocked for its emptiness and the lack of track in his relatively short career. That mockery will get air time becaus we won’t be able to get out of sports and war journalism — and politics — until the election is over.
That’s when Then What? begins. I’m hoping the new president is good at telling the new story that needs to be told. But I’m not holding my breath. (Or my blather, or you wouldn’t be reading this.)
Comments are now closed.