Fact is, these diner guys really love the press

March 15, 1998|By DAVE BARRY | DAVE BARRY,Knight Ridder/Tribune

I AM GETTING SICK and tired of listening to you members of the public carping about the news media. Every time I turn on the TV or radio, they're interviewing some Typical Heartland Americans -- five or six hard-working, salt-of-the-earth agricultural guys wearing bib overalls and baseball-style caps imprinted with the brand name of a pesticide, drinking coffee in a diner in some soybean-infested region.

One of these guys -- the spokesguy -- always says something like: "I'm sick of the media. All they want to talk about is scandals and sex! We want 'em to cover the issues! And don't sensationalize! Stick to the facts!"

OK, my first question is: If these guys are so hard-working, how come they're always in the diner? I've been monitoring this phenomenon closely, on all the major networks, and as far as I can tell, these guys have basically been sitting around drinking coffee and carping about the news media since the Nixon administration.

You know what I think? I think they don't work at all. I think they get up at the crack of dawn and go to the diner, and they spend their entire day there, waiting for TV news crews to show up.

But whoever these guys are, the anti-media remarks they make are echoed by many Americans. Probably you are one of them. Probably, if anybody asks you what you think of the news media, you say, "I think they go too far! I think they should stop covering sex and go back to covering important issues, such as the economy!" You make a very strong point. Let me respond by saying this: Liar liar, pants on fire. You don't want to read about the economy! You love to read about sex! Everybody does! Let's consider two hypothetical newspaper headlines:

FIRST HEADLINE: "Federal Reserve Board Ponders Reversal of Postponement of Deferral of Policy Reconsideration"

SECOND HEADLINE: "Federal Reserve Board Caught in Motel with Underage Sheep"

Be honest, now: Which of these two stories would you read? There's no need to answer: We here in the newspaper business already know! You want sex! Nobody ever reads the stories about the economy!

We can prove it! Every day for the past six months, as an experiment, all major daily newspapers in the United States have been running daily stories with headlines referring to the Indonesian currency crisis. But guess what? There is no "Indonesian currency crisis."

Every one of those "news articles" was actually a lengthy verbatim excerpt from the 1923 book "The Hardy Boys Reach Puberty." And you never noticed! You were too busy reading stories about the "issues" that you really care about, such as who took Monica Lewinsky to her prom.

This is nothing to be ashamed of. Americans have always been interested in political sex scandals, dating back to the administration of George Washington, who had a lengthy and well-publicized affair with Elizabeth Taylor.

I will admit that in recent years, our standards have gotten lower, as evidenced by the decision last week by the New York Times to publish a full-page nude photograph of Jesse Helms. But you have to understand that we're under a lot of pressure in the news business. The competition is tremendous, what with all the new sources of news, such as the Internet, which provide us with fantastic quantities of information (or, in technical computing terminology, "bauds"). We'll be sitting around the newsroom, trying to think about the Federal Reserve Board, and all of a sudden the word comes over the Internet: Tipper Gore is a lesbian! Allegedly! We know that every other news operation will be following up on this story, on the solid journalistic ground that every other news operation will be following up on this story.

So we swing into action, and after maybe five days of stories featuring the words "TIPPER" and "LESBIAN" in the headlines, and the word "allegedly" in paragraph 34, we get to the bottom of the story, which is that it was a prank put on the Internet by a 12-year-old boy named Walter. And thus, because of our relentless efforts, you, the public, get to find out the truth. Don't bother to thank us! We're already busily working on our next story, which is to see if there is any connection between young Walter and Monica Lewinsky.

Speaking of news you need to know, here is a LATE-BREAKING UPDATE ON THE EPIDEMIC OF FROGS SHOWING UP IN PEOPLE'S FOOD:

I have received, from alert Canadian reader Lisa Nelson, a large front-page article from a New Brunswick newspaper called the Times and Transcript. The article states that a young man named Kevin Bastarache peeled open an orange and found, inside it, a live frog. "I was surprised," the Times and Transcript quotes him as saying. "You don't usually expect to find a frog inside an orange."

The paper published a large color photograph of Kevin with the frog, which looks nervous, as though it is part of a conspiracy.

For this reason we here in journalism are urging everybody to heed the words of the U.S. surgeon general, who states: "Before you eat anything, hit it with a hammer." Thank you.

Pub Date: 3/15/98

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