My wife said a few nights ago that she thought the Iraq war would finally result in a near-complete split between the media and most of the American people. She’s probably right. I had thought that split would come in the Clinton years, during the Lewinsky rave-up. Sally pointed out that most people really weren’t very interested in that. Virtually everybody in America, by contrast, cares very much about the Iraq war.
The polls indicate that split, with Americans expressing support for the war and for President Bush at percentages in the mid-seventies. But the split takes place on a more fundamental level. Let’s count the ways.
Media people are social climbers. In their very appearances on television, they declare their allegiance to the clawing, grab-ass game of status. That game requires, of course, an obsessive concern with thinking and saying the right thing. And how is “the right thing” determined? By obsessively watching what all the other climbers say and do. Most of us outgrew that set of attitudes somewhere around tenth grade.
Oh, we’re plenty ambitious and competitive. An old childhood friend of mine just got elected to the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame, in recognition of the 24 letters he won in his college sports career. (Way to go, Rich!) But most of us look around about the time our second child is born and realize that we are pretty much where we are, and we make the best of that.
We might have thought it charming at one point to renovate a Victorian house in a historic inner city neighborhood. But children change that, unless you’re rich. We got tired of dealing with 150-year-old dirt, and worrying every time the kids wanted to go outside. So we make as much money as we can, and we move into the best suburban neighborhoods we can afford, always keeping a weather eye on the quality of the local school district, and we cope with stuff. With phone calls in the middle of the day saying our oldest is running a fever and just threw up and could we please come and get him? With the tiny daily despair of trying to figure out what kind of decent supper we can cook so everybody in the family (including the three-year-old) will eat — including fruits and vegetables. With painting the dining room. With wondering why the oldest got toilet training so easily and the youngest doesn’t have a clue.
And we strongly, and probably correctly, suspect that Paula Zahn does not concern herself with such things. For the media, their lives and their jobs are one obsession. For us, our jobs and our lives are different things. Our jobs support our lives. They do not define them.
More and more as the years go by, we value the company of regular guys doing regular things. (That’s why we like George W. Bush, by the way. He’s a regular guy doing the regular thing in a very important job, and what he says makes a lot of sense to us.) In our neighborhood, the border between northern Massachusetts and New Hampshire, you’d never know that liberals hold sway politically in Boston. The most popular restaurant is called The Texas Roadhouse. A sign on the door warns, “Peanuts and peanut dust everywhere!” and that’s enough to keep the self-conscious yuppie types out. Inside, we listen to rompin’ stompin’ country music and eat great big slabs of bloody beef.
Yes, we occasionally do a flickering channel surf across the cable news outlets to see what’s happening in Iraq, and what we see mostly looks pretty good. But you want to know what astounds us? Hearing the questions reporters ask the President and the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense and the military spokesmen at CENTCOM.
Do you know what we think — what most of the country thinks — when it hears questions like that? We think, “What the f*** are you talking about?”
And we change the channel.
Sure, the polls support us. But the media conducts the polls. So nothing ever really surprises them as much as it might — as much as it might if, for example, the pollsters asked some questions they never ask.
Like, “What should the United States do about the U.N.?” Or, “How should the United States deal with France, Germany, and Russia in the reconstruction of post-war Iraq?”
With appropriate multiple-choice answers.
If the media ever circulated a poll like that, maybe they’d get the message, too.
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