John Brennan’s confirmation hearing was hot news yesterday. Yet by about 10 a.m. or so this morning, coverage of Brennan’s nomination had been pushed off the virtual front pages of sites like Politico, the Huffington Post, and the Washington Post to make way for stories about whether the Redskins should change their politically incorrect name and mascot, celebrity gossip, and Republican governors making an incremental shift on an obscure aspect of an old issue that has been covered to death: Obamacare (pun intended).
Full disclosure: I cared a great deal about this story and jumped at the chance to report it. I do not expect the world to agree with my personal “news instincts” any more than I expect it to start humming jazz on subway platforms or curl its collective hair. But it curls my hair double to see news of fundamental relevance to contemporary geopolitics forgotten as soon as it is broken.
John Brennan. President Obama’s nominee to direct the Central Intelligence Agency. To become one of the most powerful men in the world — in history, given the hegemony of the United States and ascendance of the intelligence community since 9/11. Yesterday’s hearing was his official time under the public-interest microscope. He was picked over for nearly four hours by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which usually meets in secret. Its members were unusually pointed and straightforward in their questioning, as Brennan was in his answers.
Discussion centered on, among other things, the deployment of weaponized UAVs in non-belligerent nations, including the killing of American citizens without trial and scores of innocent civilians without acknowledgement, intelligence-gathering programs using “enhanced interrogation techniques,” broad concerns about checks and balances between the three major branches of American government, and discussions of cyber warfare, which has immense implications for the regulatory future of the Internet.
To be sure, the news cycle moves more quickly than most people, certainly those outside the media, can realistically follow. Twitter burns through topics as fire does prairie grass, spitting out information like a machine gun. New media organizations race to be first. Established outlets strain for significance. Millions of self-styled Menckens, Sullivans, and Coulters offer their opinions. Nancy Grace shrieks about protecting innocent children while anatomical diagrams of where exactly the latest victim was bruised and beaten flash onscreen. Glenn Beck cries.
Mine is an easy argument to make: People should care about issues which affect their liberty and security. The media focuses on the wrong things because, frankly, the general public responds to them. This is not elitism. Elitism would be questioning the public’s motives or integrity. I appreciate that expecting people who get most of their current events from Jersey Shore to check out Google News would be like expecting me to start talking about my social life in acronyms. To each his or her own.
The problem with this state of affairs is that we are blinded to major events until they affect us as individuals, when it is too late for us to help ourselves. Then, in our distress, we find ourselves ignored by an uncaring world. How much do you personally know about zoning law? Probably very little, but I bet you would change that overnight if your municipal government declared your property blighted, seized it by eminent domain for a pittance — it is blighted, after all — and sold it to a commercial real estate developer.
Yesterday provided a historic opportunity for ordinary people to scrutinize programs and events that should give the United States of America existential pause. Today those who care, for their own peculiar reasons, may reasonably ask why some quarters of the media are acting as if it never happened. We may ask why history itself is being forgotten in a single day.