Boycott Chatterbox!

Does journalism, like capitalism (in Marx’s famous formulation) contain the seeds of its own destruction? Chatterbox, who earns his living as a journalist, and who thinks Flytrap encompasses at least a few matters of genuine public importance, nonetheless is struck by the newsworthiness of a certain e-mail chain letter making its way around the Internet. The letter, titled “Reclaiming Our Dignity,” calls for a one-day boycott on Oct. 1 of all newspapers, magazines, TV news programs, and (gasp) “any of the Internet sites that have information on the Starr report.”

The boycott is not being ginned up by fringe crackpots. It’s the brainchild of three thirtysomething yuppies who were having dinner together in Cambridge, Mass. One works for a publisher, one is studying to be a teacher, and one works for a foundation. All three agreed that they needed some respite from the Lewinsky scandal, which they felt had engulfed the national conversation. First they contemplated a national strike. Too radical, they concluded (“We decided we couldn’t get people to stay home from work.”) Then they talked about a boycott of all consumer products. But what did Prell Concentrate have to do with Monica Lewinsky? (In fact, Chatterbox would add, Monica probably wouldn’t be caught dead near the stuff.) Finally they settled on a one-day media boycott.

“The investigation of the President has gone too far,” the letter begins. Release of “unnecessarily graphic details of the President’s sexual life, the recent release of the Starr Report over the Internet and the videotapes of the President’s testimony to the grand jury has eroded our dignity as a country. The efforts to humiliate the President, humiliate us all. Therefore, please set aside October 1, 1998 as a day of reflection on our country and the democratic process.” The letter asks readers not to buy newspapers or magazines on that day. “If you subscribe to a newspaper, tape it to your window and door, with a large circle and slash, indicating your displeasure with the level of reporting.” Instead of watching the news, “take a walk, say hi to your neighbors, or write a letter to Congress.” Above all, it says, “reflect about the type of community you want, the characteristics of a government that would make you proud to participate, and what you can do (or not do) to reclaim the dignity of the democratic process.”

Needless to say, Chatterbox won’t be participating, but he goes weak in the knees whenever people start calling for civic virtue. (Mario Cuomo’s speech to the 1984 Democratic convention still sets his heart aflutter.) Reader, if you take the day off…you will come back, won’t you?

Timothy Noah