The Other Great American Experiment

I look out the window. The last few yellow and orange and red and brown- even green – leaves flutter down, waving at me as they search for a place to land.  This fall they have been brilliant, especially in the early morning and late afternoon sun. 

Each spring I fertilize grass to perfection. Each summer I kill weeds and cut grass.  Each fall, nature nonchalantly covers my hard-earned grass with her leaves of many colors. She effortlessly merges them into one color – brown – and leaves them to nurture next years’ grass. I respond by raking them into piles to be hauled away by the town.  And wait for next spring when I will pay Lowes for bags of the same stuff I just tossed. 

Maybe, instead of sparring with nature,  I should just sit on a rocker with a glass of something and watch nature do its thing.

Speaking of politics, I don’t know about you, but I was pretty worried until last week. Portugal or Spain or Canada – anywhere out of reach of the MAGA cult – had become destinations of interest to me as I waited for the Red Wave. 

I know from history books, personal stories told by older generations, and current events, what can happen to a country run by a cult leader. From Italy’s Mussolini, to Hitler and Stalin,  and Russia’s Putin, authoritarians with charismatic personalities can demolish everything around them. 

They ferret out fear in their populations, fear of religion, skin color,  any “otherness” and fan it with big lies. Then they use that fear to cull the imperfect ones of a society, like weeds in the grass, until only perfect ones are left.

My worries faded with the red wave. 

Democracy can sure be a comfort. It is, by nature, inclusive, full of imperfect as well as perfect people. Its strength comes from the merging of those two, because the imperfect in one situation, can be perfect in another. Together, they always overcome all challenges. 

Well, until now.

In 1882, Emma Lazarus, wrote a poem to help raise money for the pedestal that would hold France’s 1884 gift to the US of the Statue of Liberty. It celebrated France’s recent freedom from monarchy and America’s recent ending of slavery.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” 

Today we brag about this early tribute to “diversity” as the core of our Great American Experiment: we are a Democratic Republic based on the value of the individual. 

We pat ourselves on the back every day for being a nation of immigrants, for our diversity.

But we’re wrong. The diversity of the early settlers was hardly the diversity of today. It was diversity of White Christians only, who came to the new land to escape European Christianity and  practice their own version of Christianity. And, starting with the Salem Witch Trials, their version of Christianity quickly became as authoritarian and stifling as what they had escaped. Today Catholics and Evangelists dictate what a woman can do with her body – in some ways a dictate even more barbaric than the hangings in Salem.

But we’re also right. Our pride in the diversity we didn’t have is leading to a diversity we never expected. As a nation we are now trying to blend people from cultures and beliefs across the world: all colors, all religions from Christianity to Muslim to Hindu to the atheist down the street. 

Imagine a country where fear of others simply doesn’t exist. It has never been tried by any country. Never. 

We’re trying it, by connecting each other through democracy and the rule of law. It is quite an experiment.

It is not easy. The MAGA cult and others are fanning our fears – of immigrants escaping climate change and gangs, of Jews doing, well, just about anything. The Anti-MAGA’s point to the foreign names behind US success against COVID and the foreign accents of your local mechanic, teacher, or bank teller. People of different colors are appearing in everything from schools to TV shows to grocery stores to Boards of Directors. 

Are there challenges with this great experiment? Of course. Challenges are part any experiment.  

Maybe, instead of sparring with each other, we should just vote, then sit on a rocker with a glass of something and watch democracy do its thing.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)

If It Bleeds, It Leads…Republicans

Unless you’re a TV history buff, you may not know that until the mid 1970’s Philadelphia’s favorite television news was KYW’s “Eyewitness News”. At that time, KYW was an NBC affiliate, the flagship station for Westinghouse Broadcasting, and consistently number one in the market.

As only TV historians may remember, Westinghouse Broadcasting at that time also syndicated “The Mike Douglas Show”, “The Merv Griffin Show”, and “David Frost”, all of which were ratings leaders across the country. 

Ah, the good ol’ days…when TV News focused on news, when  opinions were the milieu of talk shows, and never the twain would meet.

The “Eyewitness News” format was virtually unrivaled across the country until 1971, when another Philadelphia TV station, WPVI introduced “Action News”, a format of shorter stories, but more of them, delivered at a faster pace and requiring less viewer attention. 

The key to “Action News” was embodied in it’s core editorial approach and slogan: “If it bleeds, it leads”.  In other words, any story involving blood (a car pile-up, a shooting, a major fire, etc…) led the broadcast. Other, less violent stories, no matter how important, fell into line behind the blood.

Within a few years, “Action News” turned “”EyeWitness News” into an also-ran.

The “Action News” format spread across the country and was so successful, the station’s owner, Capital Cities, eventually bought the entire ABC network. KYW never regained its ratings lead. In fact, it frequently ranked below UHF stations, the equivalent of the Phillies being beaten by a minor league club. 

I don’t know if WPVI had consulted psychiatrists in developing the original format, but it turns out that “If it Bleeds, It Leads” stories are great for triggering the adrenal glands, the “fight or flight” reactions of people. That, in turn, makes them feel compelled to follow the stories and stick with the stations.

In today’s lingo, that means more “clicks and eyeballs”.

This triggering of “fight or flight” reactions has spread across the media.  On ABC’s evening news, David Muir sits at a desk, both hands gripping the edge, elbows raised, as if ready to leap up at any moment. He speaks in an urgent tone and in half-sentences, as if there isn’t time for full sentences.

ABC leads in the evening news ratings. 

As you might imagine, the other networks- not to mention all media, from newspapers to Facebook- are copying ABC. That is one reason Americans have a perception that crime is increasing, that big cities are full of danger, that families are no longer as safe as they were.

(In fact, according to FBI Uniform Crime Reports, most crime is down when comparing the 90’s to the 2010’s, even though it is up in some parts of the country this year. )

Which is why Republicans latched onto crime as their raison-de-vote. While Democrats moan and groan about the demise of Roe v Wade, Republicans have turned every news show into a free megaphone for their anti-crime meme. It’s a nuclear weapon against a pea shooter.

Cynical? Yes. But clever, as in genius-like clever? Oh-absolutely- for sure-definitely-you bet…yeah! 

Which is smarter: claiming crime is out of control and leveraging that message 24X7 into every newscast, newspaper, twitter and Facebook posting, etc…, or running a few 30 second ads touting “Woman’s Choice” in some of those newscasts?

Who are you going to believe: your local newscaster or a political ad?

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)