Saturday, July 12, 2008

Abysmal Ignorance and the Broken Trust

Until a few days ago, I had never heard of Angela Merkel. I had never heard that she is the first female Chancellor of Germany. I had never heard that she was named the most powerful woman in the world two years running. I had never heard that she is leading her country and the EU towards clean, renewable energy while the US continues to wallow in its oil addiction.

She is the most powerful woman in the world and I have never heard of her! What is wrong with me? Where have I been?

So, if I don't know that Germany, with its conservative older generation, has elected a female Chancellor, what else don't I know? Who are the leaders of the rest of the G8? If I think a while, I come up with Brown -- he's the prime minister of the UK. And I remember the hotly contested election in France last year (only because we were in Europe and watching European news at the time); if I saw the French President's name, I would recognize it -- but I can't quite pull it out of my brain. Canada, our next-door neighbor? I have no idea. What about Mexico, our neighbor to the south? Again, no idea. Japan -- one of the most influential countries in the world? Must be something Japanese-sounding. China -- the volatile giant and exporter of almost everything in WalMart? Nope. Surely I know Russia. Everyone knows Russia. Not anymore. Italy? Not the slightest.

Even if I don't know, my mother must. She watches television almost all day long. She watches CSPAN and Christian news broadcasts that deal with more real news than the networks do. So I ask her how many world leaders she can name. Zero. Okay, how about my husband? He pays more attention than I to these kinds of things and has a better memory. He is able, after some thought, to come up with four or five names -- Merkel, Castro, Chavez, Brown, and Mugabe of Zimbabwe whose election is in question. But not Canada, Mexico, Russia, Japan, China, France, Italy . . .

What is wrong with us? We are relatively intelligent, relatively well-informed people. We watch the news every day -- sometimes several times a day. But when do we ever hear real news? When do we hear about the woman who has broken the glass ceiling in Germany and been named the most powerful woman in the world? When do we hear about the smoking hot election of the French President? When do we hear about the urgent statement of the joint academies of science? Is it before the dirt on Brittany Spears or after the hot-dog eating contest in New Jersey? Maybe it was slipped in between stories on child sex and Madonna's divorce.

It can be said that the networks are just giving us what we want. We don't really want news; we want entertainment. So entertainment is what we get. News is passé. News is old hat. News is as out-moded as the clichés I've been using. But what about the sacred trust? The press is supposed to tell us what is going on in the world at large, not just the gossip from next door. The press has a sacred trust to bring us the news, the real news. And they do know the difference. I've watched CNN in America and I've watched CNN in Europe and they are no way comparable. One is entertainment and one is news.

The sacred trust is broken and I don't know if it will ever be fixed.

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