Walking back to our home from a Shabbat lunch with friends last week, my wife and I happened to pass the apartment building in which now former Congressman Anthony Weiner lives with his wife. It’s just a few short blocks from where we live.
From the building entrance to the corner and all the way across the street, the sidewalks and streets were covered with TV cameras, trucks for satellite remotes, and, I’m sure, more than a few print media types as well. Because it was raining, a lot of the electrical equipment was covered with plastic. All in all, it was quite a surreal scene here in ordinarily quiet Forest Hills.
I passed by the same corner just two days ago- after the Congressman’s resignation- and there was no trace that the media hordes had ever been there. Not a camera, or a reporter… nothing. Once he resigned, Anthony Weiner quickly became yesterday’s news. Of course, one could argue that we had all had more than enough of all Weinergate, all the time. I certainly had. But that said, the contrast of what was going on during the story with the sudden quiet of its aftermath immediately thereafter was more than a little striking.
I had to wonder to myself- what’s the “next big thing” that will capture everyone’s attention for a Wharholian fifteen minutes and then quickly recede into yesterday’s news?
The immediacy of communication brought about by new social media is very much on people’s minds these days, as well it should be. No matter who you are or where you are, if you have a cellphone with you and it has a camera in it, you are, essentially, a reporter. With the push of a button you can film something, e-mail it to a friend, upload it to YouTube, and before you know it, a few hundred thousand people will have seen it. The days of being a casual or innocent bystander are largely bygones of another era. Any one of us can “break a story” by being in the right place at the right time (or, more scarily, in the wrong place at the wrong time), and thinking quickly enough to whip out the cellphone and start shooting.
All of this is, for better or worse, or both, true.
But I often wonder whether we adequately appreciate the pressure our own enhanced media-savvy abilities have placed on the more conventional electronic media to be on top of stories as they are happening. With a variety of twenty-four/seven news channels on cable television, news radio, and more than a few daily newspapers here in New York City, we are basically guaranteed that any story of even moderate interest will generate an inordinate amount of media attention.
Without a doubt, the prurient nature of the Anthony Weiner story, coupled with his lame and ill-advised bald-faced lying when confronted with it, served to up the ante, if you will- to make his story even bigger than it would have been otherwise. He essentially created the situation that ultimately overwhelmed him.
But true though that might be, that gaggle of reporters who were stationed outside of his building just waiting for anything at all newsworthy, or maybe- just maybe- a sighting, or a juicy interview with a neighbor- those reporters have either migrated en masse to some other event or story, in search of catchy sound bites and great video shots (much better with real cameras than with cellphones!), or they’re just relentlessly checking their Blackberry’s to see where their producers think that next big story is.
And we, their public, wait, watch, and listen.
What is happening, right before our eyes, is that the news is becoming just another reality show, and the nature of our voyeuristic interest in it reflects that.
Anthony Weiner is gone. Where’s the next juicy story? And what will hold our attention until then?