The media disgrace
|"...corporate media blew its most promising opportunity — ever — for instigating a policy-level discussion of The Great Taboo..."|
| Two tantalizing developments in late October, just days shy of the most demoralizing U.S. presidential campaign in the history of the world: |
1) Using NASA data, a journal called Proceedings of the National Academy of Science announced it had calculated that more than 8.8 billion Earth-like planets inhabit the Milky Way galaxy alone. Which is depressing enough. But also: 2) Another journal, Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, identified 234 stars amid a survey of 2.5 million in which light-pulse signatures were consistent with
Nope, unfortunately, UFOs haven’t destroyed Capitol Hill or the Kremlin, and De Void is not back. But after seeing how corporate media blew its most promising opportunity — ever — for instigating a policy-level discussion of The Great Taboo, it’s difficult to sit back and pretend we’re not in very deep trouble, and on such a fundamental level. Market-tested and auto-programmed for parroting trivia, fear and anger, the Fourth Estate appears to have also severed its links to those things that can evoke the best of who we are or hope to be.
I used to follow crowds of visitors onto the banks of the Indian River Lagoon and the beaches of Cape Canaveral, where they converged for the countdown to shuttle launches and planetary missions, most of which rarely made their deadlines. But no matter. Taking expensive chances with the weather and the inevitable hardware glitches, they rolled in from everywhere, from around the world, pickup trucks, RVs, lawn chairs, binoculars, bug spray, SPF50, coolers, Coleman grills, lanterns, campfires, tripods, radios, you name it, they packed it. And it wasn’t just to watch — they could’ve tuned into network coverage for that, and with a lot less aggravation. They came to participate, to be a part of something that reduced to irrelevance whatever affiliations that divided them, even if they weren’t aware of it. And they were united by storylines that generated parades of firsts:
First woman astronaut, first black astronaut, first teacher, first Saudi, first Israeli, first American in orbit giving it another shot to see if his 77-year-old bones could withstand, 35 years later, the rigors of space flight. There were multi-ethnic multi-racial shuttle crews fulfilling Gene Rodenberry’s “Star Trek” prophecy. There were astronauts pushing back against skittish administrators, demanding a chance to risk their lives to fix a failing telescope renowned for peering into the edge of time. There was the 96-year-old widow of the astronomer who discovered Pluto, on hand to watch an unmanned craft programmed to deliver, among other things, her husband’s ashes to that unimaginably distant world.These stories fueled pilgrimages. And the entire planet joined the learning curve, sometimes in horror, learning to exhale only after solid-rocket boosters cleared the fuel tank 90 seconds out. On the high frontier, death is the ultimate price of knowledge; yet, the waiting list to engage that voyage swells. And it has been this way since the first crazy people hopped into hollowed-out logs and splashed off for nothing more than invisible hunches and theories on treasures their faith said lay waiting beyond the horizon.
Walter Cronkite once said history will look back on America’s Apollo moon program as the 20th century’s crowning achievement; indeed, 50 years later, the study of the neurological shading that occurs when space travelers gaze upon Earth — called the “Overview Effect” — is only beginning. But Cronkite’s sensibilities were nowhere in evidence during the presidential debates. There were 27 national stage-managed auditions during the campaign of 2015-16, and unless I missed something, not a single journalist bothered to solicit a candidate’s vision for space, the arena in which the U.S. and Russia are indispensable partners. Not a one. In fact, after securing their party’s nominations, neither Trump nor Clinton could find room for a website blurb on NASA policy. But you can bet your ass those two would’ve dashed off something, no matter how cynical or meaningless, had a single member of the press stepped up to ask about it in a public forum.
Which brings us to journalism’s great lost moment. Let’s do this again:
For the first time ever, a monopoly-party candidate attempted to post UFOs on the Beltway talkboard. With persistent nudges from campaign director John Podesta, Hillary Clinton on three separate occasions showcased not only a conversational grasp of the phenomenon but also a rhetorical willingness to pursue the issue wherever it led. All three statements rated dutiful cut ‘n’ paste coverage worldwide. But not a single major daily or network or public radio station had the guts, or the foundational knowledge, to ask HRC why — exactly — she was so interested in broaching such a politically radioactive topic. It made no sense, tactically or strategically. It was a baffling non sequitur, with no moneyed momentum to propel it. Where were the payoffs? Who was the audience? It was intended to be a counterweight to — what?Someday, these presentations will be compared with what “Reefer Madness” did for marijuana laws. For now, what is truly unforgivable is journalism’s demonstrated inability to revitalize rigorous inquiry into whatever may be waiting for us out there, conventional angles or otherwise. Even as the universe grows more crowded, more vivid and more complex with each flip of the calendar.
Well, given how no news division or editorial board saw fit to mention our once-bejeweled space program, their failure to confront Clinton with her counterintuitive UFO remarks was at least consistent. And as a final kick out the door, Esquire magazine’s snark over the Podesta/Clinton gamble, published two weeks ago, mirrored the prevailing media tone over the last 11 months: “Cracking the Crackpot Vote — How do you win over true believers (in extraterrestrials) in an election this crazy?” If you were too stupid to get it, the editors punched it up with an illustration of HRC sitting on a flying saucer shooting a laser beam from its belly.
Like an amoeba, our species assumes its definition not at its middle, but at its leading edges, at the margins, where it decides to go next. If we’re losing our capacity for awe — not to mention an appreciation for the human ingenuity required for translation — let’s start calling out the usual media suspects. Clinton-Trump ’16 flagged an opportunity for institutional journalism to explore documentation it has never properly addressed, to make a different kind of history, no matter who won. And like a streak of summer lightning, that moment flickered and vanished. It’s already almost like it never existed.
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