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Real Reality Doesn't Really Make the News

By J.R. Labbe

Originally Posted

Our top story: Mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus are biting kidnapped girls who are accused of burning black churches after eating apples treated with Alar by farmers living in houses affected by Radon. Film at 11. Advanced communications technology has helped turn life in America into a perpetual crisis. Because of the immediate availability of information from every nook and cranny of the nation, catastrophe appears to be showing its ugly face at every turn of the page and click of the channel. Crisis in health care, crisis in the schools, crisis in the streets, crisis in the family. The word gets used to describe everything from a lack of affordable child care to a shark munching on a surfer in the waters of the East Coast. Crisis or Annoyance? Of course, one's nearness to the problem determines whether it's really a crisis or merely an annoyance that someone else is experiencing. [See our biting commentary, "Journalist's Death Dominates News; Oh, There's Also a War."] Like the little boy who cried wolf to get attention when there was no real threat from the fanged beast, politicians, social engineers, and every do-gooder with a cause invoke the crisis label to draw attention to their particular crusade. The Media: Co-Conspirators And the media are happy to oblige. Who cares that child abductions and shark attacks are actually down in America, or that more people will die of regular ol' influenza this year than from West Nile virus? Why confuse people with the facts or, perhaps, a little perspective? As long as humans have drawn breath on this planet, existence has been a challenge. Ever since Eve successfully tempted Adam with that piece of fruit, humans have trod a rocky road. It's called life. No one said it would be easy, at least not for everyone. No one said it would be fair, at least not for everyone. Life is a tough game to play. Crime, war, troubled youth, stressed relationships, and tough economic times are all part of the game. They have been since the days of Cain and Abel. Some play it better than others. Some never seem to learn the rules, perhaps because the finer points keep changing. Picking up a daily newspaper or turning on the news often sparks a desire to denounce all worldly goods and go live in the woods somewhere. (Remember to pack the DEET.) Life's Exceptions Are the News But what make the lead stories on the nightly news or banner headlines on the front page are life's exceptions. America has far more well-adjusted youth than maladjusted ones, far more functioning families than dysfunctional ones, far more ethical and honest business people than former Enron execs. Alas, happy endings rarely do headlines make, unless it's a story as spectacular as nine Pennsylvania miners who emerged relatively unscathed after being trapped underground for more than 70 hours. We read and hear about the screw-ups and the screwballs. We don't read about the normal people who go from birth to death without fanfare or controversy. Most folks get their names in the newspaper three times: when they're born, when they get married, and when they die. (Of course, there's a running joke in the newspaper business that says it's actually four times; once more when we run the correction for spelling the name wrong.) Good News Goes Unreported Every day, in every city and town in America, good things happen. Taxpayer dollars are spent wisely by city council members and school board trustees who have the residents' best interests at heart. Children learn from lessons taught by dedicated and creative educators. Doctors and nurses save lives while researchers develop new medicines to help them do that job. People everywhere volunteer countless hours of time to help someone else play the game. These moments of hope and optimism go mostly unnoticed, never making it beyond the immediate parties involved and into the public eye. Oh, an occasional story in which someone prevails despite overwhelming odds makes it as a clip on "Inside Edition", but there's usually some terrible and rare disease involved. The stories of average people making it through the day go untold, because other average people won't pay to read or watch reports about people like themselves. It's the old "man bites dog" theory of news judgment. It's not news when dog bites man, unless the dog is a huge Presa Canario -- linked to a dog-fighting ring run out of a state prison -- that was trained to guard an illegal drug lab before mauling a woman to death in an apartment complex hallway. Film at 11.

© 2002, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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