Something happened a couple of months ago, something big . . . and American. I can vaguely recall it, mainly because I have a hazy memory of the network news anchors, drunk on peppermint schnapps, going live on the air with grave expressions on their faces. There was wild speculation and rumors flying — was it Libya? Iraq? Another campaign speech? The president, I remember, came out looking solemn and announced . . . jeez, what was it? Oh yeah, Osama bin Laden! Dead! Hooray! Phew. Don’t cha just hate that? Now I can get back to working on my tan.
I’m kidding of course. By all accounts, the killing of Public Enemy Number 1 was a big f*#$ing deal (to borrow a phrase), but the news cycle moves so quickly these days that it’s been gone for weeks. The story was kept on life support by auxiliary threads like the controversy about the death photos (gruesome!), Omar bin Laden’s assassination accusation and the inevitable interview with the matchmaker who introduced Osama to his most recent bride. Poor President Obama’s poll numbers barely even rose.
There are just so many other stories for news outlets to cover, even the big ones don’t seem to merit extended play anymore. While the broadsheets cover tornadoes in the Midwest, prospective 2012 candidates and the national budget debate, the only thing anybody wants to talk about is Anthony Weiner’s, well, wiener. New photos of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords faded after two full news cycles, but they had to fight for space with LeBron James and the rapture predictor’s stroke. Why, CNN can’t even decide which stories to cover and asks its viewers to text in what they want to watch in a segment titled — wait for it — “You Choose the News.”
So what is the average news consumer missing? What are the stories being shoved off the front pages and headlines only to be relegated to the farthest depths of newspapers and websites? Are bloggers the only ones who care anymore? And I don’t mean the human interest, news of the weird stuff. Although the California naked coffee house ban, Florida’s accidental ban on human sex (oops!), and pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s love child are mesmerizing when I’ve reached the end of the Internet, they really don’t have anything to do with me. (Note to self: Cancel trip to Miami.)
Admittedly, I’m a news junkie, to the point where I’m overwhelmed with content and opinion. But I’ve gradually grown resentful at the lack of balanced coverage for items that have potential to affect my everyday life. In the past few months, I’ve learned that the almighty and powerful Food and Drug Administration is trying to ban food coloring because of a possible link to something or other. (Adios, red velvet cupcakes!) The Environmental Protection Agency is actually considering a ban of anti-microbial soaps because of dubious science provided by environmental groups. (Sayonara, clean hands!) Keep looking on the Internet and I find the actual facts. That’s the same EPA that couldn’t decide which chemicals were acceptable to clean up the Gulf oil spill. Oh and hey, this is while (non-chemical) bedbugs have been found to be spreading superbugs. Another brand-spanking-new agency, the Consumer Products Safety Council, is about to ban rhinestones from children’s clothes. (Buh-bye, bling!) Oh, and parents of obese children are about to lose their state tax deduction. That’s the parents of 20 percent of Illinois children, who I’m guessing are not all wealthy. (Auf Wiedersehen, Miami vacation — eh, guess it’s not that bad.) Seriously, are they just going to ban fat kids next?
These bans might all seem as far-fetched and ridiculous as, say, a ban on circumcising your baby, but they exist, and I would never know about them had I been watching the evening news or reading a paper only above the fold. It’s up to all of us, not just the junkies, to delve deeper into our worlds, be mindful of the powers that want to take away or favorite foods and clean hands and have our voices heard. Or we can just wait for the next text vote on CNN. There’s sure to be a smoking kitten in the running.
Natasha Mayer is a political consultant in Washington, D.C.