Today's headline in the NY Times, "81% in Poll Say Nation Is on the Wrong Track," provides as good an excuse as any to begin a long-delayed project. According to the poll, "Americans are more dissatisfied with the country’s direction than at any time since the New York Times/CBS News poll began asking about the subject in the early 1990s."
It's fair to conclude that this nation, the strongest in the world, remains profoundly vulnerable to poor leadership. Is the system self-correcting? Will enough capable and effective leaders come forward and be voted into office to change people's negative view of government and the country's course?
It was back in the early 90s that I concluded that the news media, upon which we as voters depend for information on current and potential leaders, was both tragically flawed and unlikely to ever change. Newt Gingrich was leading an ascendant conservative movement to take control of Congress. He and other Republican leaders mounted a devastating critique of the status quo in Washington, heavy on symbolism and often slim on content. The news media proved helpless to put the accusations in context, to point out that some alleged mountains of government waste were in fact mole hills.
Mainstream news organizations, it turned out, were not the public's watchdogs, but instead only passive conduits for the squeakiest wheels. It's no surprise that, fourteen years later, all the promises to shrink and clean up government have come to nothing.
News as we know it is preoccupied with stories. A bomb goes off in Baghdad. A candidate makes a faux pas. But hearing these breaking stories tells us no more about reality than gazing at breaking waves tells us about the ocean. The buildup, the climax and the roiling aftermath are engaging, but what determines an ocean's fate, or a nation's, is not in the eye-catching sparkle on the shifting surface. We stand gazing, clueless as the tension of a tsunami--of debt, environmental catastrophe, incompetence, or financial chaos--builds far below the breaking waves of daily newscasts. By the time it becomes news, we are helplessly awash in its consequences.
The news media is, for competitive reasons, dedicated to keeping our eyes affixed on the breaking news stories of the day. We have chosen our leaders based on these daily servings of shallow drama, and now declare ourselves more disillusioned and despairing than ever.
The waves of breaking news will always be there; I am as entertained by their drama as anyone. What I propose is needed, and will outline in subsequent posts, is a complementary and parallel news service, that will help people journey beneath the waves, to the deeper realities of government, environment and nation, where we can become less vulnerable to the daily shift and sway, less disillusioned by the consistent negativity of the news stream, more able to appreciate good leaders if and when they come along, and more able to discern a plausible path out of current discontent.