The Breakfast Table

Sticky Journalism

Dear Steve,

I’m a night gardener, except when I go home early on Mondays, so this will be quick. What astonishes me is how overwhelming the coverage of Littleton will be and then how quickly we will go back to business as usual, and that includes Congress protecting guns. After the Dunblane schoolyard murders, Britain spent a year holding hearings and considering legislation, and then passed tough gun control. We’ve had a slew of these killings, each time the body count goes up … and nothing.

Reluctantly, I like Bill Bennett; reluctant because the preachiness of the right wing grates so badly I can hardly hear what they are saying. To me, the best family value is a good job at something above the current minimum wage, so that the working class can spend more time with their kids and not at a second job. And I’m perfectly able to look after my child’s soul (and if I fail, I would look–like conservatives–not to government but to small institutions working up to larger ones: school, community, church … juvenile detention, etc.). Not presidential candidates. Not Dick Armey. The vulgar, coarse stuff spewing everywhere is a problem. Even for parents who are attentive and control the remote-control button, the yuck seeps in. But I’m only in favor of boycotts (I think the Baptists were wrong to target Disney for their stated reasons, but believe it’s the right approach), not the government stepping in. In New York several years back, I was shocked (not in the Captain Renault sense, but truly shocked) to see a program on called something like George at Midnight (or Robin?) with explicit sex. Usually I’m in bed at midnight but my daughter is up. That’s the Family Viewing Hour for teenagers. Knowing pornography when I see it, I saw it. And I thought: What are they thinking? How does this get to be? And then I put it in my Only in Manhattan column and forgot about it. Is it still on? Let’s begin the boycott there. Although I’m much softer on sex than violence. The current stew seems to mix the two indiscriminately. Remember Ice T?

Well, I’m beginning to sound like my mother. But here’s the thing you are right about: Lots of kids soak this stuff up and only one in a million goes nuts. The psychopaths get younger and they can get a gun as easy as a car.

If journalism stuck, I would be so happy. I agree that yakking on TV is just vapor. If I didn’t get paid to do it, I think I wouldn’t. That’s easy to say, since I do get paid. But to play this out one more beat, I never go on TV when I don’t get paid, unless it’s a highfalutin cameo on network. I have a modest proposal: Let’s try an agricultural marketing order for journalists and pay them not to plant themselves in front of a camera.

See you tomorrow.