Thursday, December 11, 2014

Roses on the Grave

Any way you look at it, this is a very sad story. The commentary Matt Bai makes on our society is even more pathetic because it’s factually true and yet philosophically inadequate. There’s really no upside to it. Everybody loses, nobody wins. Having said that, the book is packed with little jewels of insights, gems of self-illumination that can, and should, stimulate conversation and self-examination. It’s written and researched extremely well, there are some b&w photos and besides that, an unexpected value are the other books footnoted and recommended by Bai, books on the subject of journalism, ethics, morality, the marketing of presidential candidates; books I’ve ordered and can’t wait to read. So, thank you for that!

It wasn’t until the last couple chapters that it hit me what was going on in this story…. you know, why was I reading it? That was the question being asked in 1987 when the scandal between presidential candidate Gary Hart and model Donna Rice first appeared on the political scene. The subject of Bai’s book isn’t just about the turning point when politics went tabloid, as it says in the subtitle; it’s also about the turning point when journalism became a bully, when bullying established itself as a legitimate method to get “the story” and if you have to destroy everything in its path, so be it, only – be the first to get the story! As Bai tells it, the moment when the nation and its media took a hard turn toward abject triviality was hastened by Hart’s personal collapse, which made it easier for journalists to sneer at him, to proclaim him unfit and to blame him for all the tabloid scandals which were yet to come.

As I was nearing the end of the book, I got the distinct feeling that I was reading a eulogy, or attending a funeral, or looking over the guest list at a memorial service. The book, from beginning to end, is really a story about brick layers disguised as serious journalists who mixed tabloid gossip, politics and advertising revenue in a wheelbarrow of public opinion, laying cement at a tomb marking the spot where journalism and politics became little more than performance art. By the time scrutiny and scandal ran themselves into the ground, journalism and politics would be forever despised as entertainment and scorned for not being entertaining enough! 

Matt Bai’s book is a touching tribute to Ideas, buried like a corpse in a society needing ideas, a society which never had the chance to say goodbye. This book may be an attempt to place a few flowers on the grave.

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