The Digital Journalist
Curiouser and Curiouser
October 2006

by Beverly Spicer

It would be a prize-winning achievement for an author to come up with a work of fiction that would even begin to touch the real-life drama we have been witnessing for the last 5 1/2 years. Most people have been completely blindsided by events as they have unfolded, and just when you think nothing else unexpected could possibly happen, along comes a whole new chapter in this neverending story. It seems fiction has become the new reality, while truth or things that sound true have only one effective value — entertainment.

Remember the Victorian rule, "If you don't have anything nice to say, you shouldn't say it at all." In my childhood, though we didn't live this way in my family, we heard that children should be seen and not heard. We all know the saying, "no news is good news," but it meant if you don't hear any news it indicates that all is well. Things have changed. Now, the phrase "no news is good news" is beginning to mean that all news is not good, or that when we watch or read the news, instead of real news we get a kind of non-news, meaning fluffy, soft stories about panda bears, movie stars, or inconsequential trivia. The other alternative given us these days is the "boo!-be-scared" or the "cry-wolf" kind of report — a cornucopia of threats about terror/murder/disease/disaster, broadcast over every channel in multiple repetitions of carefully crafted, coincidentally identical talking points. As my friend described her experience of the evening news recently, "It was mostly fluff, and then there was a commercial. Fluff, commercial, fluff, commercial." There is indeed an inordinate amount of fluffy filler in the news and attendant commentary these days, but every now and then something happens. In a now-famous example broadcast the last Sunday in September, while one president seemed to be unconscionably wagging the dog, another was indignantly wagging his finger. This clip has flown around the world an untold number of times since then.

Part I

Part II

It's true, in the best tradition of Joseph Heller, that something happened in the Chris Wallace-Bill Clinton interview above, and as quickly as it happened, it spawned a plethora of commentary that quickly degenerated from debate to debacle, as evidenced by this full-on rant starring entertainers Bill O'Reilly, James Carville and Paul Begala on FOX NEWS.

The world continues to go around and in turn, debacle spawns debate. What started out to be an interview on FOX NEWS by Shepard Smith with Bill Kristol turned into a verbal pressure-cooking cook-off. Again, it seemed like something happened. The ingredients were punditry, partisanship, and repugnance, with a dash of profundity. And, the winner? Let's be fair and balanced: You decide. Watch it here.

The rule that some of our grandmothers lived by — saying nice things or nothing at all — is soon to be in effect if not enforced, supported by law and carrying the risk of punishment if its violation results in the displeasure of the president. Presidential pressure and congressional compromise have hypothetically if not yet noticeably morphed the privileges laid down in the First Amendment into none, and our Miranda-granted right to remain silent may find itself in company with a new duty to be silent. In effect, our legislators have passed a law that demands obedience, that gives the president absolute power over the entire population not only of the United States of America, but also over anyone in the world.

We have now been told it is unacceptable to think, and long have been warned, even if we have not understood, that if you are not with the president, you are with the terrorists. Therefore, by elementary logic, dissent equals terrorism. Habeas corpus ad subjiciendum is now tossed aside like other things quaint; free speech is at best dangerous and at worst treasonous, and anyone, even you, may be imprisoned, tortured, tried with secret charges, convicted, detained indefinitely or executed at the pleasure of the president according to how he and only he interprets any previous or existing law of his choice. That our president has received permission by law to do as he sees fit under any circumstance does not mean that he will do so unjustly or irrationally, but he has the right, the liberty, and the power to do so. Let's hope he is benevolently disposed and inclined to humanitarianism. In the anticipation of a never-ending state of war against terrorism, let's hope also that all future presidents will rule munificently as well. With the amassing of ultimate power to the executive and in the absence of concurrent safeguards that this vested authority not fall into lesser hands in the future, it would be hard to imagine the graceful relinquishment of that kind of awesome power to any alternative political party. Imagine for a moment the victory of a Democrat or Independent, a Green or Libertarian or other presidential candidate. Could we expect the current Power in Chief to go gently into that good night? We will need an extraordinary amount of good luck for all to go well in perpetuity.

Speaking of good night and good luck, we have observed a shift in broadcast news commentary. After a lengthy period of mainstream complicity, granted out of respect, support, reverence or fear, the occasional commentator has gathered a critical mass of righteous indignation, has collected his/her unacceptable thoughts, and expressed them. Many viewers have been astonished at the boldness of MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, whose commentaries of late echo those of a gone-but-not-forgotten anchor from another era of nightly news broadcasting.

We at The Digital Journalist are always a bit challenged about "news" since we publish only once a month. We try to be timely, but sometimes a big boat goes by that we miss simply because our deadlines fall a whole week before publication. But it doesn't stop us from looking for news, fake news, non-news and real news. I think the following is real news, thanks to CNN's Lou Dobbs – real news that is flying under the radar of most audiences of mainstream television broadcast journalism.

What else is going on? Probably a lot. It just gets curiouser and curiouser, and that's all I have to say.

© Beverly Spicer

Beverly Spicer is a writer, photojournalist, and cartoonist, who faithfully chronicled The International Photo Congresses in Rockport, Maine, from 1987 to 1991. Her book, THE KA'BAH: RHYTHMS OF CULTURE, FAITH AND PHYSIOLOGY, was published in 2003 by University Press of America. She lives in Austin.