What Rough Beast Slouches Toward Bethlehem to Be Born?

I’m in the process of being bludgeoned by three media whales – Ike, Obama vs. McCain, and the meltdown of the financial sector. I can’t check my electronic mail or turn on public radio without encountering “news” about them, and I’ve descended into a sort of meta-panic, not about the “news” but about the fact that I’m not actually getting the news. My guess is the real news is much worse, but I suppose that’s a matter of opinion or worldview.

Three important characteristics of US journal-tainment-ism have resulted in a perfect storm, where hurricane force winds, attack ads, and market crashes beguile a crazed public and have us staring so intently at our tv screens, pc monitors, and (in rare cases) newspapers, that we barely feel the breeze just at our backs.

One is obvious, though its effects are further-reaching than initially thought. Technology and globalization have led to increased competition for stories and audience. With this many sharks in the water, everything will be devoured, regardless of its worthiness as food. As a result, any trifle is either a story or can be turned into one. This has a great leveling effect, where the fall of housing prices in Cleveland is seen as equally weighty as an $800 billion war in Iraq or another celebrity DUI.

Two: the rise of derivative journalism. As a result of the competition and the difficulty (in terms of cost, mostly, but also, it’s hard work) of doing actual reporting, much of the “journalism” remains only derivative. Reporters report on how other reporters are reporting things. Sometimes, the sharks eat each other, because they have to eat. Charlie Gibson interviewing Sarah Palin is a story. John McCain telling his own supporters and a bunch of reporters about his energy policy is a story.

Three: As a result of the ubiquity of derivative journal-tainment-ism, commentators can (and do) spend air time and column inches pointing out how biased other journalists are. The problem is, they can be right (correct, that is) about their attacks, or at least not proven wrong, because they’re not commenting on anything other than other people’s comments, which tend to be more pliable than actual facts and circumstances. These are the big sharks, and everyone must pay attention to them because of their size.

Introducing sanity into this sort of cannibalistic feeding frenzy is, of course, impossible. So the two political parties spend their time shoveling in chum.

Imagine this wet, churning, many-gilled monster as it loiters off the coast. Now it blows landward on hurricane force winds, toward country that already has a liquidity problem.