Friday, October 16, 2009

Media Pathetique

Okay, I get it. The nation bit its fingernails over fears that a six-year-old boy had climbed aboard a balloon in Colorado and, of course, we're all relieved that this peculiar-looking balloon actually enjoyed a childless solo flight, no matter the curious circumstances. Yet, oh, how the press danced in the televised media ballroom, thrilled to show a mushroom-shaped "flying saucer" whizzing across the skies of Colorado. How graceful! How beautiful! How dangerous! How amazing! How high! How low! Wow, it's not even a Mogul project!

Sadly, however, the bonus wasn't there. Nobody clinging to the balloon, audibly screaming in fear, nobody performing aerial acrobatics while in free-flight, nobody perched atop the thin fabric like James Bond ready to do battle on the Golden Gate Bridge. How disappointing! What a let-down! How come nobody's waving at the camera?! Ms. Peggy Lee herself might have been tempted to shake her head and belt out a song: "Is that all there is? Is that all there is to a rampaging balloon?" And the press could have responded: If that's all there is, my friend, then let's keep dancing. . .

Perhaps it's true, contemporary journalism classes really are turning out the adult version of TV babies, charged with an ability to investigate little more than shiny hypnotic images capable of rendering them senseless, hopelessly entwined in the pitfalls of brain function deprivation.

This isn't exactly a Ph.D. level observation, but'cha know I watched this freaking balloon video on TV "news" shows long, long after the biggest story in the country deflated -- pardon the balloon comparison -- to a major non-story, and I thought, yep, things are normal. For decades, all manner of high-ranking and impressive active duty and former military personnel have come forward and described fantastic encounters with things in the sky exhibiting characteristics far more incredible than the flight of a helium balloon, but Big Media just won't or can't be bothered to shout out a big "Hey, lookee here!" regarding that untidy elephant in the living room. The Colorado balloon was so. . .so. . .well, there were close-up telephoto videos and motion and the thing was spinning as if Dr. F. Anton Mesmer himself had invented the damned thing so the whole nation could fall into a trance.

So, innocuous balloons are welcome to flit about in the skies, posing for expensive photographic equipment and grown-up TV babies, and while everybody's sending instant images of nothing special to the media the sober voices of former military personnel warning that UFOs have the capacity to screw around at our nuclear missile bases go unheard, unheeded. I get it. Who wants to listen to this stuff when it's such fun to watch balloons spin and cruise overhead, or to discover animal faces in the clouds?

Look, I'm glad a kid wasn't in the balloon, because he wouldn't have had a prayer, not this time, not like on TV dramas ripped from the headlines where everything makes sense. I just wish the mature professional TV-baby journalists would put a little more effort into checking out other things in the sky, weird, usually off-camera stuff capable of intimidating military installations and confounding official personnel.

Big Media already has a public relations problem, a.k.a. down-home credibility, and someday that problem may escalate faster than a helium balloon set at warp-speed when the most untold news story ever untold hits the streets. When words matter more than videos or color graphics, who will give us the truth and be bold enough to demand answers? What will TV-baby journalists do? How will they cope? Who will change their diapers when scary government people tell them to go away?

(Jake Tapper, thank you for being you.)