Sunday, November 19, 2000

Unending story

Too much talk, too little news

        So I'm driving to work Friday after a few days off — my regular post-election recovery respite — when a “breaking” news story about the presidential election interrupted Tom Petty.

        This was all I had to hear before I switched stations faster than Covington City Solicitor Joe Condit cleaned out his office election night.

        “A group of attorneys are approaching the microphone...”

        No. You're kidding. A bunch of attorneys were going to talk about the Election That Won't End between George W. Bush and Al Gore? Wow, that hadn't happened for, oh, a good 11 minutes or so.

        We can't possibly go that long without hearing about vote counts starting, vote counts stopping, overseas absentee ballots, chads, Katherine Harris, circuit judges, federal judges, Broward County, Palm Beach County, Jeb Bush, James Baker, Warren Christopher, David Boies, the Electoral College and butterfly ballots.

        The election has turned into the political equivalent of Groundhog Day, the Bill Murray movie where every day is a repeat of the previous day. Except that movie was funny. This deal in Florida is not.

        I realize this is history in the making. And in that vein, the whole battle over who wins Florida and then wins the presidency is fascinating.

        But the media, particularly the talking heads on TV, have once again turned a far-reaching news story into a spectacle, a circus, a non-stop orgy of opinion, conjecture, speculation and spin. When there is actual news, it is probed and analyzed until the next morsel of new information — and then a whole new group of experts, anchors, reporters, political science professors, office holders, former office holders and Doris Kearns Goodwins takes over.

        And on top of that, we have to see a turtle-necked Mr. Gore playing football like the Bengals — did you notice he blew the deep coverage on his daughter? — and Mr. Bush with a big ol' bandage on his grille, looking like Les Nessman from WKRP.

        I do enjoy politics. I write about it for a living. During my week away from the office, I finished a political novel and read some great magazine pieces about Bill Clinton, Alan Greenspan and Newt Gingrich, among others.

        I also love Heineken, cheese coneys and the NBA. But if I indulged in those pleasures the way it was possible over the last week to OD on politics, I'd be an overweight lush who knows Stephon Marbury's shooting percentage against west coast teams.

        There is a presidential election on the line, of course, meaning this situation deserves the public's attention and concern.

        But in today's world of instant information, news stories — including the presidential election — become events where so much information collides with opinion and speculation that it becomes almost impossible to separate the facts from all the chatter.

        We did it with O.J., Princess Di, Monica Lewinsky and Elian Gonzalez. Important stories turned into soap operas.

        At one point last week, as I flipped through 50 or so television channels, the presidential election was being talked about on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, MSNBC, PBS, Larry King, Geraldo Rivera, ICN6 and a cooking show. (I'm not making that up.)

        “No wonder people hate reporters, politicians and lawyers,” I said to my dazed wife.

       Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for The Kentucky Enquirer. He can be reached at 578-5581, or by e-mail at Pcrowley9


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