Jewish World Review Nov. 29, 2000 / 2 Kislev 5761
Will all of this turn people away
from politics? Dream on
THE BIZARRE and ludicrous nature of this year's
presidential election is bound to have an effect on
young people who are observing national politics
for the first time.
That's what many worried observers say -- that
young Americans just learning about our electoral
system will absorb what has been taking place and -- aghast -- will turn away
from politics forever.
The opposite is probably true -- the Bush-Gore presidential race will almost
certainly draw more people into politics than if the election had been decided
in the decorous, traditional way.
Like it or not, the events since Election Day have inadvertently been perfect
for the national culture that has in recent years engulfed us.
This has been politics as the World Wrestling Federation would have designed
it -- politics with no rules, politics with raised voices and name-calling, politics
that doesn't end when it is supposed to end, politics with potential rematches
around every corner, politics with O. Henry twists and sneak attacks coming
from the rafters.
In the World Wrestling Federation's America, just when the match seems to
be over someone comes sprinting down the aisle with a metal chair to slam
over the apparent winner's head. It's appalling, it's lacking in civility, it teaches
all the wrong lessons -- and much of the country can't turn its eyes away from
it. Now that the WWF way of life has spread all the way to the presidential
election, we are likely to see more -- not fewer -- young Americans become
interested in being a part of all this.
Good news? Not really -- there has been nothing very uplifting about the
front-page developments since Nov. 7. But for people who are paying
attention to presidential politics for the first time, what has happened this month
may turn out to be enough to bring them back next time. The only potential
flaw is that if Election 2004 reverts to the dry, by-the-books ways of standard
elections, people may find that tedious.
The same thing likely goes for young people who are watching the press and
television cover the race. Will the frantic, often sloppy nature of the coverage
discourage young men and women from pursuing jobs in the news media?
Not a chance. The news media's coverage of the election may not be awash in
honor or dignity, but it could paradoxically, by sending all the wrong signals,
draw young people into the business.
Carefully and cautiously reporting the news -- quietly doing your legwork,
holding on to your findings until you are absolutely certain they are accurate,
stopping yourself from delivering the facts to the public until you know in your
heart that they are, indeed, facts and not just rumors -- sounds like difficult
work. Which it is.
But what we have seen this month -- even though much of it doesn't come
close to qualifying as journalism -- may have the effect of making young
people want to become part of the news business.
Sitting in a television studio yelling out your opinion, doing your best to drown
out someone else, making wild assertions and predictions without worrying
that they will be proved ignorant, because by the next commercial break no
one will care -- that is what has passed for reporting during much of the last
The WWFization of politics has, not surprisingly, crossed the line into political
journalism, too -- and the old rules about triple-checking your facts, being
obsessive about objectivity and dispassion, waiting until you are completely
confident in your reporting before delivering it to your readers or viewers . . .
those rules, since Nov. 7, have begun to seem like something out of the Dead
How do you convince a young person that the painstaking, self-questioning
method is the only acceptable way to be a reporter, when the journalists
getting the most public attention this month have been the ones with the loudest
voices, the most outlandish predictions, the most uncheckable and fiery
assertions? The way to success in the news business -- or so it has seemed
this month -- is through high decibels, through shooting erratically from the hip,
through purposeful carelessness.
Hard work? This looks easy -- because it is. What young person wouldn't
want to jump right in? It's the 21st Century version of running away to join the
You sense what all the Election 2000 news teams are praying for now:
Fistfights at the inaugural
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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©1999, Tribune Media Services