Lakeviews by John M. Wylie II
Oologah was honored Tuesday when a group of Pakistani journalists visited to learn about U.S. community journalism and how a community newspaper covered the Oologah tornado of 1991. Pakistan doesn’t have tornadoes, but has massive flooding and earthquakes, and coverage techniques generally cross lines from one disaster to another.
The visit was arranged by the U.S. Department of State as part of an effort to improve relations between Pakistan—a vital U.S. ally at times and a virulent foe at others—and the American people. The State Department folks stayed in the background and just let us talk.
It was supposed to last an hour. We actually talked for 90 minutes, with only about a third devoted to disaster coverage. The rest was split about evenly between how community newspapers work in the United States and why US media and politicians devote almost no time to foreign affairs while denigrating leaders who pay close attention to such things.
Both are very good questions. Celebrity journalism, stupid pet tricks, kids being cute on You Tube and similar drivel now dominate far too
much time on TV news and in major newspapers. Media moguls say they simply provide what the people demand, but if that is so why are metro newspapers and national and cable networks losing readers and viewers in droves?
Still, the less international coverage they provide, the less their audiences know or care about such news (and more important, about analysis and explanation). And the less they care, the less they will watch. It is a vicious cycle.
But that’s not the worst of it. Coupled with the loss of interest in foreign affairs is a growing distrust of those with rigorous educations.
When we started working in journalism and politics in 1971, those who had earned a Rhodes scholarship or studied at one of the great British or European universities put it on their campaign biographies with pride. It showed they had the intelligence, drive, discipline and analytical and leadership abilities to help shape the future of their city, county, state or nation.
Today they likely will to try to hide such accomplishments, lest they be accused of “arrogance” or “elitism.” That has led to the dumbing down of America and is part of the reason PBS and NPR are under constant attack.
After all, those networks dare to carry intellectually rigorous programming and (gasp) programming that reflects a world view, not just the jingoistic rantings of certain know nothings.
Sadly, while we talked about the issues for a good 30 minutes, we could not come up with a solid answer for any of those questions.
We could agree that the world grows more interconnected each day while citizens in the United States become more and more disconnected.
Most people don’t get the opportunity we had Tuesday. We came away from the session wondering why a segment of our population is determined to ignore foreign policy issues and deride intellectual rigor. Ask any student or graduate of our military academies—West Point, Annapolis or the Air Force Academy. Dumbed down students will never get in, and those who denigrate academic rigor or ignore foreign policy will never graduate.
Something to think about.