If there is anything that bugs me about today's news reporting,
especially on television and radio, it's the perspective that
everything is happening for the first time. The demand for immediacy
is so great, and the time allotted is so short that historical
perspective is lost.
It happens with everything from the presidential campaigns to
gasoline prices, educational problems, international summits,
failures of high-tech defense systems, crime, violence, family
failures, and problems in transportation, health, the stock market
and even baseball.
Electronic media reporters would have you believe that all these
are happening for the first time, but actually they are just
continual adjustments to the imperfect human condition. President
Harry Truman told my Columbia University journalism class in 1957
that we could only understand the present by reading our history,
and he was right.
Truman, in fact, is a major case in point. He was so far behind
Thomas Dewey in the summer of 1948 that almost no one gave him a
chance right up to the election -- no one except Truman that is. He
knew from previous elections that working people needed help at that
time but had no national voice, because conservatives controlled
most newspaper editorials. Radio and TV mattered little then.
Working people voted for Truman, however, and he won.
Now, liberals dominate the reporting of television, radio and
major city newspapers. Reporters are young, as they always have
been, but even the editors and news directors are young now, and
that is new. Some remember when President Ronald Reagan overcame a
summer lead by Michael Dukakis in 1984. It seems that few remember,
however, President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty did not work.
Vice President Al Gore is promising the same approach, and no one
questions whether it will work.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush is trying to reach the silent voters of
the center with his "compassionate conservatism" to overcome Gore's
promises. Gore, however, knows how to make news by promising more
government money to solve everyone's problem.
Bush has led polls this summer, because Gore has reinvented
himself so many times, but the election will be close. The real
"silent majority" now is made up of people who have learned that
work does work -- especially in their own computerized businesses.
No one reports the perspective of how the electorate has changed.
Gasoline prices also indicate the short electronic media memory.
We went through a whole cycle of rising prices, smaller cars and
slower speed limits while adjusting to environmentally driven non-
leaded gasoline during the 1970s.
That resulted from an oil embargo by the Organization of
Petroleum Exporting Countries. Government leaders charged the oil
companies with price gauging, and oil industry leaders warned that
relying on Middle East oil damaged our national security.
Interest rates reached 20 percent and more.
Now, the cycle has started again, but history is ignored. People
are driving big sports utility vehicles that guzzle gas with high
speed limits, and new environmental requirements have added to the
cost of producing gasoline. Meanwhile, our production of oil is
lower than ever.
The warnings of 30 years ago have come true. We rely on imports
for more than half of our oil. With Middle Eastern countries raising
oil prices and new environmental requirements, gasoline prices are