Carmageddon Hoax Shows Media at Its laziest

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.


The Dim Bulbs of Congress

A new GOP trademark?

There are ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and against global terrorism. The budget runs out on August 2, and unemployment stands at nearly 10 percent. If you believe rightwing pundits, presidential hopeful Michele Bachman, and dim Republicans in Congress, though, the most pressing issue of our times is the right to buy energy-inefficient light bulbs.

In case you’re one of those Americans (God bless you!) who doesn’t fall pretty to what journalist Susan Jacoby astutely calls the “culture of distraction,” the GOP is trying to generate resource-depleting heat over the end-of-the-year ban of the sale of incandescent light bulbs; a 2007 law mandates that these will be withdrawn from the market and replaced by halogen or compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) that use less energy--generally about one-third less. To red-meat Republicans this isn’t an environmental bill; it’s just another needless government intrusion in our lives. Even worse, they argue, it’s a liberal-led plot to create the Big Brother State and destroy American liberty. Every Republican in the House voted to repeal the 2007 law. (It passed 233-193, far short of the two-thirds needed to override a veto.)

We have often railed against the culture of stupidity on this blog, but the light bulb kerfuffle takes us into deeper realms of darkness. As it so happens, we had an energy audit done on our home just before Bad Bulb Bachman went on her rant. We replaced all the incandescents left in our home, and the energy savings are real, not liberal fantasies. Every four bulbs you replace saves an average of $25 per year, even when one factors in the higher costs of CFCs. The payoff time for a CFC is just nine months and they last, on average, six to eight times longer than incandescent bulbs. Yes, they contain mercury, which is why you have to recycle them, not dump them in the trash. But I suppose recycling is another government intrusion.

GOP antigovernment rants have long crossed the border between cautionary and paranoiac. They’re also philosophically and politically unsound. Antigovernment activists (be they libertarians or anarchists) constantly confuse liberty, the freedom to move between socially sanctioned constraints, with libertinism, the right to do as one wishes without external controls. Rightwing libertines would--except in cases involving their own agenda--set individuals adrift in a Social Darwinian society in which the only rule is the right to do whatever the hell they want. Civil society doesn’t work that way. One of government’s roles is to “promote the public welfare.” (Look it up; it’s in theConstitution the Right references but never reads.) This is why, in recent history, we have passed things such as the Clean Air and the Clean Water Acts, both of which many Republicans wish to overturn. Promoting the general welfare is why we have criminal laws and civil statutes such as speed limits, food inspection, and building codes. Yes, sometimes the general welfare makes us do things we don’t wish to do, like stick a catalytic converter on our car or not smoke in public, but you might have noticed that none of the Doomsday scenarios predicted by ranters ever seem to materialize. (In our town, restaurant profits went up when smoking disappeared.)

I’d like to know what sort of logic says that government can’t mandate a consumer preference--which it does all the time through dozens of federal laws--but that it should take away a woman’s right to control her own body, forbid gay marriage, or impose school prayer. I’d also like to know why it’s all right for consumer choice to be abridged by private industry, but not government fiat. Did you vote on the decision of cable companies to dump analog in favor of digital, thereby rendering your faithful old Zenith incapable of receiving TV signals and necessitating the purchase of an expensive flat screen set? Were you in on the plan to replace self-maintained windup watches with those using batteries that only a jeweler can replace? Have you cast a ballot over the price of heating oil? Interest rates? And don’t give us that free-market dollar-vote nonsense, or we’ll invite you to cast that dollar vote and sit in the dark if you don’t like CFCs.

The discussion over light bulbs is so stupid that it’s a shame to waste 760 words on it. The only serious question it raises is whether there are any adults left in Republican Party leadership ranks. From where we sit, it looks like the party is controlled by burnt-out ten-watt incandescents.