26 March 2009

Out of Touch With (Virtual) Reality

In the midst of the dire news about the economy is this closing sentence:

For all of last year, the economy grew just 1.1 percent, unchanged from the government's previous estimate. That was down from a 2 percent gain in 2007 and marked the slowest growth since the last recession in 2001

The stock market moves more than the economy because it is more in touch with virtual reality: the things that might happen rather than the things that have.

To be fair, jobless claims are rising, and the GDP dropped in the last quarter at a rather stunning 6.3% rate and the stock market has fallen by nearly a quarter to start the year. News is bad. But there are already signs of a recovery. It could be that this terrible recession will turn out to be not so awful. And that, too, will make for a great story.

It would be fascinating to write a history book that used current media techniques to report on history. Can you imagine MSNBC covering the Great Depression? Fox covering the McCarthy trials? Or CBS covering World War 2? PBS the Holocaust? In real time? Careful readers would be assured that these were, indeed, the end times for (in order) capitalism, capitalism and democracy, the free world, or, in the case of a Biblical people being decimated, simply the end of the world.

We live in age of hyperbole. Our mainstream media knows the shock and awe techniques for getting our attention. They seem, on the whole, a little more confused about what to do with our attention once they have it.

Last year, the economy grew by only 1.1 This is not speculative. It is simply a fact. And one unlikely to alarm anyone enough to buy a newspaper in order to learn more.

There is a great line of Phillip Roth's, a father talking to his son. "Anything can happen, but it usually doesn't." Sepculating about the economy's flirtations with collapse makes for alarming and exciting news. Liberals get to rail at the greed of Wall Street. Conservatives get to rail at the socialist inclinations of our new adminstration. And anyone trying to understand what is really happening - rather than what might happen - has to work hard to find out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree. I heard a news report about the violence with the drug cartels on both sides of the Mexican border. If I hadn't just gone shopping at an American outlet center that actually backs up right against the border fence, I would have thought the entire area was like a war zone from what was said on the news.