I have talked in this space in the past about
ubiquitous news stories whose origins cannot be divined or explained
but which must be followed because people have become so aware of them
that their curiosity is piqued – the disappearance of some attractive
coed somewhere, an East Coast murder mystery, a petty court battle
among friends over a lost iPod, the litany of Tiger Woods’ dalliances,
any of scores of unspectacular stories that caught the right person’s
interest somewhere and then, in the vernacular of our day, went viral,
ultimately infecting even those of us who may not see much news value
in the issue at hand.
Most of these cases, whether trivial or tragic, are
harmless. They give valid cause for shaking one’s head, if not also his
finger, at the sometimes inscrutable judgments of the news media and
the pack mentality to which we occasionally fall prey.
But then every once in a while, along comes a so-called
Rev. Terry Jones, and the peculiar story no longer seems a harmless
curiosity. Now, suddenly, the issue focuses a lot more on trust and the
faith responsible media must have in the overriding reasonableness of
their audiences when approaching some stories.
And so we may all join in the telling of Terry Jones’
misguided story, but we do so with the faith that most people seeing
and hearing it will know it is misguided. Jones may get his 15 minutes
on the world stage, but in the end, reason will out, most people will
recognize what an insignificant intellectual pipsqueak he is and we’ll
turn our heads back to stories about health care, taxes, people in need
and other issues of substance.
Yes, I guess an occasional story about a starlet’s sex
life or athlete’s drug habits will sneak in there, but ultimately,
thank goodness, we know you’ll concentrate on life’s meaningful
challenges more than its curious nonsense.
That first paragraph up there? IS ONE SENTENCE. I would like the occasional grammar-enforcer who e-mails me about my run-on tendencies, split infinitives and comma splices to RECOGNIZE, okay?
As for the argument itself: Right. We can’t have standards! Someone might think we’ve missed The Firestorm of Controversy! We can’t just decide that this is some attention-whoring crap and we should stand alone in our opposition to the pack mentality we’ll later bemoan so as not to be giant hypocrites! Why, that might make us look … different from our media brethren, and if there’s anything corporate journalism teaches us it’s that anything different is bad.
So we can cover a bullshit story, and later say it’s bullshit, and then blame readers if they don’t catch on to our game, because hurf durf durf, stoopit readers. Not doing their jobs!