Watching the social media and cable news train wreck | Whale

To say that anything is possible is to condition the sinister, pitfall corollary that nothing is ridiculous.

So you told me, dad.

All I can say is, if you’re following me here, pop, you were right. But I know you would not be happy to hear that.

See, pop, the world you left behind on Christmas Eve 11 years ago has really gone nuts as of late. And every morning when I wake up, I know for certain that the skies are already full of bats, winging their way to sundry belfries.

This bums me out, pop. But that’s mostly my own fault. It’s a hangover from watching the slow moving train wreck that is social media and cable news, and from picking up fragments of conversations between ordinary people who declare as unquestionable truths what once would have been fall-on-the-floor laughable, ridiculous, dumb.

Only I’m not laughing.

T.S. Eliot in The Four Quartets referred to “the laceration of laughter that ceases to amuse.” I know that some poor sucker(s) out there are taking that stuff seriously. I don’t know why, but there seems to be a ravenous, frightful appetite out there for gulping down the most preposterous galaxy-spanning, jaw-dropping effluent.

And the purveyors and the gulpers alike have already shown us what the consequences can be: murderous.

In 2022, pop pundits spin — to borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill – “terminological inexactitudes” like tops. But instead of being censured as they would have been not so long ago — and still should be — they are rewarded, promoted. And their success emboldens them to spin even faster, and the volume of crap mounts up and blocks out the sun, and it goes on and on and on.

The old term “montebank” is helpful here. I use it here primarily to refer to the hucksters who used to enter a town, set up a bench — a “bank” — and mount that that bench to hawk their bogus medicinal cures, hoping some rube would buy their pitch. In the service of the dollars they hoped to bring in, the more outlandish the claim, the better.

Pop, too many have found their way up and into high places on radio and television without any concern for the damage their words may wreak. Their eyes are focused only on the ratings and bucks.

I stand cynically at a distance and wince. I ask myself, how can people believe what this guy is selling? I know I am not alone in feeling this gullibility as a jack hammer to my head, a soul crushing reminder of how few truths there seem to be that we as Americans can agree on anymore.

As far as the media goes, this certainly has not always been the case.

In a documentary on CBS’ News coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, we learn that Merriman Smith, UPI’s White House Reporter in the press pool car mere car lengths behind the presidential limousine, heard the shots, knew what they meant and called his UPI office in Dallas.

The high standards those guys had for accuracy back then seem almost quaint. Just consider their unwillingness to break the monumental news of the president’s death until it was officially confirmed by the White House.

I shudder to think how that event would be covered now.

“These days you hear it, you put it on the air,” one of Cronkite’s writers, Ron Boon, said in the documentary. “Nobody seems to care anymore. In those days, nothing got on the air before at least three editors had seen it, and said, ‘wait a minute, what do we really know about this?’”

Somewhere along the line, and I don’t know when, truth and accuracy became quaint anachronisms.

We all saw what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol. But since that day, I’ve heard one elected official say those were ordinary tourists.

You are telling us we didn’t see what we saw? What is that but gaslighting on a massive scale? The people who put out things like that are counting on us to be so stupid that we can no longer recognize, hey, that dude’s dropping wood over our eyes.

Unfortunately, I have learned via hard, bitter experience that to argue the point is to resolve to bang my already aching head against a brick wall. It’s taught me that the lever of Archimedes would not be able to dislodge what someone is bound and determined to believe. You wanna believe the Earth is flat, go ahead.

What’s perhaps even more depressing is that so much of this baloney is not incidental. It’s being done on purpose, by hostile foreign actors, hostile formal powers and a lot of people here at home.

Steve Bannon has made no secret of his intent to see the government fall. As he recently said to Michael Lewis of Bloomberg News: “The Democrats don’t matter. The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with sh—.”

I hope for some return to normalcy.

In the meantime, I reflect on what W.H. Auden said in his poem, Sept. 1, 1939 on the outbreak of World War II:

“…Ironic points of light

Flash out, wherever the Just

Exchange their messages:

May I, composed like them

Of Eros and of dust,

Beleaguered by the same

Negation and despair,

Show an affirming flame.”

Robert Whale can be reached at