When I moved a bit farther out into Pittsburgh’s southern suburbs just ahead of the 2016 election, a fair number of my new neighbors’ yards sported Trump/Pence signs, with one lonely Clinton/Kaine sign holding down the corner. Eighteen months later, as the special House election between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone looms, campaign signs have sprouted in many more yards and Lamb is definitely leading in my very unscientific sign poll.
The photo op is an example of what historian Daniel Boorstin called a “pseudo-event,” an event that takes place solely for the purpose of being covered by the press. Closely related is the staged photo, supplied by institutions of all stripes to project an idealized and in essence persuasive image via the credible medium of the press.
Imagine you are a farmer. You invest in land, seed, equipment and labor. The overhead is tremendous but your crop grows true. Then, at harvest time, a pack of freebooting strangers charges across your land, harvests your crop, sells it at market and kicks back not a cent. To subsist, you gather up what stray stalks remain and sell them by the roadside. This is the current business model of American journalism.
Journalists, like playwrights and personal injury lawyers, love conflict. A house divided against itself may not stand, but it makes a really neat picture crashing down. This is why the news media, particularly local TV, are covering the upcoming G-20 economic summit like an impending Super Bowl or, better, a post-Super Bowl riot in Oakland.
“Amadan,” for instance. There’s a word I’ll surely never hear again. It is an old Gaelic word that translated loosely – and gently – refers to someone who is not terribly bright. More specifically, when I was a boy, an “amadan” was any careless driver (see also: “horse’s ass” who pulled into my father’s path on the highway.)
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