The Breakfast Table

Living in a TV Neighborhood

Dear Steve,

Given that you’re a press critic, it’s just as well that you don’t read my column regularly. The thing about columns is there are a few you want to show your children and many, many more you are glad to use as fish wrap.

I was struck by the need, the awful need, the children and parents of Littleton had to be on television, as if nothing has really happened, no feeling would be felt, until it has been broadcast on CNN. In a wonderful book, the Frenzy of Renown, Leo Braudy wrote about how it had always been thus, observing, however, that the need to be noticed had become more potent as the entities that used to confer recognition had weakened–the neighborhood, the community center, school, church. If attention must be paid, how will it happen, when we don’t know the people on our street or have a neighborhood school. TV has become the backyard fence. Everyone can talk about Barbara Walters’ interview with so-and-so–a common point of reference–but not that Johnny down the street won the science prize or rescued the neighbor’s cat. We don’t know Johnny. One reason so many people watched Monica’s interview, besides prurient interest, was to be able to take part in the national conversation the next day.

It would be a good test of my need for recognition to take away the money and see how much TV I would do. It’s easy not to show up on the circuit, where I wouldn’t get paid, when I have a regular gig where I do. Deprived, I might end up lingering overlong in front of the video camera meant to catch shoplifters at Barnes & Noble.

The distortion of how much Sam Donaldson gets paid versus the shoe-leather reporter tracking down the zoning board payoff is exactly right, and that’s just the distortion inside journalism. If we meant anything about what we’ve been saying this past week, teachers should get paid the most in our society, but they are way down on the pay scale, not just below Sam and Cokie and the Fame Mongers, but the socially questionable professions like investment bankers and lawyers. They handle money; teachers handle our kids. We’re so out of whack.

On the Clinton contribution, I should have been more precise that it was long ago and far away. But the larger issue is that no one has to believe that any of it mattered to use it against you. We’re monsters that way.

Hey, in before lunch. Lunch Table.