The news, both print and broadcast, has been making a big deal lately over David Letterman’s retirement from his career as a late-night television host. But why?
OK, lots of people have watched David Letterman over the 33 years during which he worked for NBC and CBS. They have welcomed him into their homes and sat up with him into the wee hours. I get that. While they may feel that they know him, however, David Letterman wasn’t really there. He was on the other side of a screen behind a desk interviewing people they will also never meet. Their connection with this man exists only in their minds.
Will his fans miss him? I’m sure they will. But why is his retirement such big news? Back in the day when the evening news reported real news, this would not have merited more than a few seconds. On the Huntley / Brinkley report, Either Brinkley or Huntley would have noted that today was his last day and then said something like, “We’ll miss you, Dave, and good luck with the rest of your life.” End of story.
The Real Issues
At the risk of sounding grumpy, I think the news programs, magazines, newspapers and websites should be dealing with issues and concerns of far greater import for the country than this piece of entertainment industry trivia. Just think of all the questions that might rightfully concern us:
- Is the U.S. economic recovery helping everyone or just those at the top?
- Will a slowdown in the European economy affect the U.S. recovery?
- Does China’s military buildup on islands in the South China Sea constitute overt military aggression against the U.S.?
Will ISIS destroy the priceless antiquities of Palmyra now that they have invaded this ancient city that is a World Heritage Site?
- What will happen as the Large Hadron Collider smashes atoms with a far greater impact than ever before?
- Will the NSA have to stop collecting telephone data on all Americans?
- Would it be a good thing for another Democrat to enter the 2016 Presidential race and give Hillary Clinton a run for the money?
- What impact will the Santa Barbara oil spill have on the California coastline?
- Will an El Nino event this year be strong and will it last throughout out the year, affecting the world’s climate?
- Will the Irish vote in favor of same-sex marriage in Friday’s referendum?
- Why are gasoline prices rising so quickly at the pump?
- Will McDonald’s, Walmart and Target raising hourly wages compel other big companies to follow suit?
- How do the economies of states with a high minimum wage compare to states with a low minimum wage?
- How many children will die from gunshot wounds in the U.S, this year?
- Did Canada’s former Minister of Defense really admit that UFOs are real, appear regularly, and have done so for thousands of years?
In Another Context . . .
And that’s just a small sample of things we could and probably should be talking about. Instead the news media are fixated on the retirement of a very wealthy man whom most Americans do not know and will never meet.
Let’s look at this story another way. David Letterman is an entertainer—a comedian and an interviewer. He has never and will never find the cure for cancer, figure out how to protect the U.S. from an EMP attack, negotiate a Middle-East peace process, end world hunger, create rain in California, develop a handgun that children can’t fire, lead the fight against ISIS, or even decide whether to move the point-after kickoff from the two-yard line to the 15. In the greater scheme of world events, his retirement generates less than a ripple.
So why are the news media fixated on this story to the exclusion of many of the others listed above? Here’s my four-part explanation:
- It’s easier than reporting real news and world events
- David Letterman is one of the celebrity crowd, just like them
- The American public would rather listen to stories about celebrities than actually think about the real issues—or even know what the real issues are
- As long as the American public is focused on celebrities, they are not thinking about how their lives are being run by a small minority of the rich and powerful for their own advantage.
In other words, “Look over here and pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”
Making a Dollar
So I’m looking forward to this story going away as David Letterman rides into the sunset. I know it will be replaced by yet another piece of celebrity nonsense and the news media will jump on it just as eagerly as they did this one. As showman P.T. Barnum once said, “No one ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.” And the news media, both print and broadcast, are in the business of making as many dollars as they can.
I just wish the American public wasn’t so eager to be diverted from the real news or so willing to accept what they’re told. Being amused is more fun than thinking, though, so I’m not encouraged.
In the meantime, Good-bye, David, Good-bye.