Sunday, January 3, 2021

Keep calm until there's real news.

I had a topic for this post all picked out and researched and everything, and then this afternoon the Washington Post threw a monkey wrench into my plans. Well, phooey on them. I'm gonna write this post anyway -- and I'll work in their bombshell, too. 


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It was Wednesday, November 25, 1987 - the day before Thanksgiving. I was at my brother's house in a northwest suburb of Chicago, baby Kitty in tow. (Her father was in the Navy, and I think he must have been on deployment in the Mediterranean Sea.) At the time I was working for WTAR-AM in Norfolk, VA. I'd been a news anchor and reporter for about nine years.

We had the TV on, and the noon news featured a breaking story: Chicago Mayor Harold Washington had collapsed at his desk at City Hall. He was transported to a hospital, where he died that afternoon.

The early evening news ran the story at the top of the show. The story topped the 10:00pm show, too. 

When it was still leading the next morning, Thanksgiving Day, my mother complained aloud: "Are we going to have to listen to this same story all weekend?"

To which I replied, "Of course. It's a holiday weekend and this is an honest-to-goodness news story. The only other things they have to talk about are the holiday traffic death toll and Toys for Tots."

I mean, I don't recall my exact words, but I'm sure that was the gist of it. I had worked enough holidays by then to know the feeling of desperation a newsperson gets when you have to put together a newscast but you have nothing but evergreen stories and wire copy to fill it with. However people might have felt about Harold Washington as Chicago's mayor, his death was a blessing for every reporter and anchor in town who had to work that weekend.

Now, 1987 was toward the beginning of the phenomenon known as the 24-hour news cycle. If we had trouble filling a five-minute radio newscast on a holiday in those days, imagine what it's like for a producer at a cable news network today, looking down the gaping maw of a news-free holiday weekend. What do you do? Well, you have your reporters record a bunch of evergreen stories ahead of time and parcel them out over the next several days. You also have your reporters do what are called pre-writes, or the "this is what's coming up next week, once everybody gets back to work" stories.

Right now today, we are at the tail end of the holidays, the grimmest two-week period for anybody in news anywhere. So many people with regular jobs are on vacation that even when it's not Christmas Day or New Year's Day, reporters have trouble getting hold of sources. So especially now, right after New Year's Day, news organizations run a lot of pre-writes. 

And what's coming up? Big political stuff! Two Georgia Senate elections on Tuesday! Congress meeting to certify the presidential election results on Wednesday! So we're getting a lot of "news" stories about these two events. I've put "news" in quotes because a lot of what we're getting is actually speculation -- and a lot of the speculation sounds scary. 

Here's an example: The Proud Boys are coming to DC on Wednesday, but they're going to wear black so no one can tell them from Antifa! We don't know how many will come, but still! Scary!!!

And then there's all the political theater surrounding the joint session of Congress on Wednesday. Do the Republicans challenging the results have enough votes to keep Joe Biden from winning? (Nope.) Can Vice President Pence refuse to certify the Electoral College results because other electors in certain states want their votes counted instead? (Again, nope.) But what about that lawyer in Georgia who tweeted that Pence should be executed by firing squad if he doesn't declare Trump the winner? It's all so scary!!!

Yes, it is. It's meant to be. That's how 24-hour news operations keep hold of your eyeballs so their advertisers can sell you stuff. 


I was going to end this post by advising us all to use our heads over the next few days -- to carefully consider the likelihood of certain things happening, and to spend time, if at all possible, looking for a news story with a calmer point of view. I was going to close by saying we'd all know a real bombshell when we saw it.

And then WaPo went and proved my point. They got hold of tape of a phone call President Trump made yesterday to Georgia's secretary of state, pleading with and badgering the guy into "finding" enough ballots to overturn the state's election results and give the win to Trump. I listened to excerpts this afternoon. I'm no lawyer, but it sure sounded to me like Trump is trying to get Brad Raffensparger to throw the election. 

That's illegal. Someone found guilty of that crime could face a sentence of up to five years in federal prison.

So my original advice still stands: Don't let the scaremongering distract you from real news.


These moments of calming blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep masking up and keep social distancing!

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