Out Here In The Fields

They’re handing out the Stanley Cup in hell right now for I agree with Tina Brown.

Like the Democrats in Congress, we are a craven crowd. We go panting after the 25-to-54 demographic and the networks panic if a show devoted to foreign affairs or the world of ideas pulls down the ratings for a lousy hour or two.

The current mania for any story with a religious angle is just the latest index of the post-election angst in executive suites about the terror of being out of touch with suburban mega-churches and other manifestations of the supposed Real America. God forbid, so to speak, that anyone should stand up and suggest that Mozart might be as worthwhile as NASCAR, or that it might be as important for the soul to read Philip Roth as the hokey bromides of “The Purpose Driven Life.”

Perhaps in the near future what used to be thought of as news will be not only produced but exclusively consumed by an ever-shrinking elite who feel vaguely guilty about being well-informed. Information junkies prospect on the Web for what they want to know. Everyone else will just be transfixed by the passing reality show that comes disguised as news. The only trouble is when something really big is happening out there, we are blindsided by its impact — as when the rise of Islamic fundamentalism somehow passed us by in the ’90s. Ignorance suddenly got awkward on 9/11.

The news cycle has evolved into a pattern that strobes between overkill and silence, but reality has not ceased to exist. As our eyes are exclusively focused on a hospice in Florida or an apartment in Atlanta, you wonder uneasily: What’s going on beyond that wall of noise? The earthquake off Indonesia this week was like the sudden recriminating cry of the tsunami victims who lost our interest: “Remember me. I’m still here.”

Ignorance may have gotten awkward suddenly, but then it got cool again, real fast. We were told by our leaders it wasn’t necessary to understand “why they hate us,” as if anyone remotely awake during any part of the past three decades even needed to embarrass him or herself by asking such a stupid question. We were told all we had to do was “smoke ’em out.” And there was a huge comfort in that, I’ll admit. Most of us do not feel we have the luxury to consider the shoddy state of the world, much less take action to correct it.

What 9/11 should have taught us, newsies and non-journos alike, is that we no longer have the luxury of ignoring it.

Both the left and the right (and for that matter the chewy apathetic middle, too) accuse the media of moving as one monolithic force in one direction or another, leading people to think or act in service of a particular agenda toward a predetermined end. Sometimes I think the problem is the opposite. And yes, journalists like everyone else take their cue from the nation’s leader in times of crisis, and Bush was saying anything but “try to understand, even in your anger, because it will make you a better person and a better citizen of the world.” But how nice it would have been if, in addition to the militant stance of the Oval Office, we had had a concerted effort, some leadership from those with loud enough voices to be heard by all, saying, here are the stories that need telling, the why and the how we got here.