It began that morning with an eerie silence: the sound of information-laden newspapers not landing on driveways across America. In the scattered towns where a daily paper still regularly plunked onto sidewalks and porches just after dawn, enlightened if not-yet-caffeinated citizens stumbled around their lawns scratching their heads, checking the time and wondering what happened to their goddamned news.
As the rest of America awoke, yawning and pawing at their cell phones to see what the day had in store, they found no alerts from news apps. Social media was flush with the usual mishmash of outrageous opinions, zany GIFs, and photos of Friends’ lunches at that new place downtown. Looks amazing.
But — no shared articles. No clips of last night’s sport events. No links to the latest in the Mueller investigation, Supreme Court dustups, or separation of immigrant families. There was just … no news at all. From Breitbart to Mother Jones, the normally traffic-jammed media highway was utterly, uncannily empty. Not a soul. Not a sound.
What the hell??
Was it some sort of journalist holiday? Could all of the nation’s reporters be at, like, a giant libel conference? Ooh, maybe they were on strike! Who could blame them when the leader of the free world calls them “disgusting,” “scum” and the “enemy of the people”?
Everyone knew that just as Hitler had cast doubt on the “lying press,” Trump was intentionally undermining the media with his cries of “fake news!” to discredit outlets who exposed his missteps. They’d heard him lead crowds in chants of “CNN sucks.” They’d read that Trump supporters had sent memes of journalists hanging from trees to Newsweek staffers.
They’d even heard alt-right inciter Milo Yiannopoulos tell reporters he “can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning down journalists on sight” — only days before a lunatic did just that in the newsroom of the Capital Gazette. They’d heard about all of this because … well, there was news back then.
They hadn’t paid much attention to this war on the press because, frankly, there were so many wars being waged, on so many fronts. It was hard to know where to invest your energy, what to throw your donations at, which to call your senators about. The environment. Civil rights. Immigration. Women’s reproductive rights. Voter hacking and collusion. And let’s face it, journalists are a scrappy lot. They’re tough. They can take care of themselves.
Besides, though the public knew the press existed — and was protected by our founding fathers — in order to ensure an informed citizenry, well, sometimes the news was just so … bad. More often than not, they hated to hear it.
But then suddenly, without warning (okay, all right, there was a lot of warning) they were gone. Given up, perhaps. Run out of town. Or flat out of work, maybe. Hogtied in basements by rednecks. Who knows?
Now who would keep the voting public updated on those other issues they cared so deeply about — the ones that had seemed to matter more than anything else? Who would tell them what was really going on? Who would peel up the lid on the Tupperware Stackables that is our otherwise airtight, opaque, and impenetrable government; sniff its curious contents; and alert us when it’s gone bad?
As the days slid past, the news famine endured. No NPR en route to work. No headlines in the rack at Starbucks. No 6 o’clock TV anchor highlights during dinner prep. No “Did you hear that interview?” at the water cooler. No “Did you see the photo of the fire?” at the gym.
Only squawking and bloviating by unchecked politicians. Jockeying and manipulating by shrill voices unbound by a code of ethics. Attention-snatching and name-calling from anyone left with a channel, a microphone, an @handle. No analysis. No context. No sense.
Uninformed, the citizenry did miss their 60 Minutes. They pined for the New Yorker, Vice, and even the spiritless, sanded front page of USA Today. They no longer had a clue what was going on in the corners of their world, their nation, their towns.
But at least, they told themselves, there was no more bad news.