Did the “Carmageddon” story capture anyone else’s imagination? I don’t mean did you hear about it, I mean did it strike you as lame as it struck me? Forget for a moment that it was as big a nonevent as Y2K or the (non) end of the world on May 21. Allow me to introduce another element and label all three as examples of how pathetic “news” coverage has been in recent years.
Carmageddon was never a real thing; it was a media invention from the get-go. In the golden (pun intended) days of yellow journalism, media sources creating stories out of thin air at least had the good grace to bring their inventions to life. The most infamous version of this occurred when William Randolph Hearst sent Stephen Crane to Cuba in 1898 to report on the “war” for independence from Spain. Crane arrived in tranquil Havana and cabled Hearst to report there was no war. Hearst was alleged to have wired back, “You provide story. I’ll provide war.” Maybe that’s apocryphal, but few historians doubt Hearst’s role in providing the drums that war hawks subsequently beat.
I’m not advocating that reporters start wars, but I would like them to get off their lazy rear ends and report on matters that require investigation and research more grueling than a half hour on Google. Carmageddon was perfect for the current breed of smug and sardonic typists. (They do not warrant the titles “reporter” or “journalist.”) First invent a phenomenon. Hey that’s a story. Then report on the buildup to the invented event--a second story. When nothing comes of nothing, story three becomes the reaction to what didn’t happen. Pretty neat--three stories without ever having to stray from the blue light of the computer monitor and the deskside stash of Cheese Doodles.
Where are the new Bob Woodwards and Carl Bernsteins? If Watergate happened today, who would have the patience to investigate a story for nearly two years? Yeah, I know; Mother Jones, The Nation, and one or two others still do this sort of thing, but who (besides me) reads these? What impact do they have? The mainstream media has practically much abdicated investigative reporting. Celebrity and junk news is so much more glamorous and so much less work. If one must go out into the field, by all means be embedded with your sources. That way all you have to do is cut and paste rather than check out the veracity of what’s being spoon-fed.
So what goes uninvestigated unreported? Only serious stuff like who’s behind the drive to gut Social Security. Wouldn’t you like to know about the network that convinces Americans that it would be a disaster to make rich people pay taxes? Wouldn’t it be nice to pull a Watergate and “follow the money” to see how bankers, investors, and CEOs managed to jam the T.A.R.P. bill down our throats and take billions from our pockets? How about why Pakistan still gets any U.S. aid? Where is the ongoing analysis of America’s failed mission in Iraq? Or the faux reasons for getting us there? Where are the critical voices questioning the presumption of a rise in “democracy” in the Middle East? I could name dozens of other stories that beg for investigation, but we don’t get them because, “Oh my God! It’s Carmageddon.” You can pretty much guarantee that if Carmageddon or the end of the world does happen, you won’t read about it in the paper or see it on TV. It will probably get reported on an obscure blog like this one. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear a rumor.