Growing up, my family had a ritual in the old apartment in Queens. Dinner at 6 served on our scratched-up glass table surrounded by four Formica chairs, followed by a half-hour of Walter Cronkite and the CBS Evening News.
This was the 1970s, when the anchorman was at the peak of his powers, and Cronkite was the most trusted of the breed. What Walter Cronkite said, America believed.
Now, it’s 40-odd years later. Now, when broadcasters, the newspaper, Facebook, Twitter or a website delivers information, we don’t know what to believe.
Nor should we, given the current state of America, our political leaders and our media.
This strikes me as among the saddest of many sad facts revealed by the national fistfight over illegal immigrant children being forcibly separated from their parents.
Amid the conflicting stories, shrill spin, weeping, fury, Old Testament citations and the Trump administration’s statements, Tweets and briefings, I found myself confused not by the morality of this issue, but by the actual damn facts.
It may be the shining achievement of President Trump’s leadership-by-gaslight style: It is now impossible to discern what is going on in America amid all the screaming and diametrically opposed tales.
Not that this is all Trump’s fault. Three other parties share complicity in this disaster, and each demand its share of flogging. There’s the Democrat opposition; there’s the media; and there’s the public, as in you and me.
So far as the Democrats go, their inability to separate what works politically from what’s true makes many of them the opposite side of a Trump silver dollar – an idea he’ll likely float any day now.
They despise this president as much as he loves himself, which renders their judgment and credibility equally suspect. Think about it: Who among today’s Democratic leaders would you trust with your wallet, your kids, your future? If there’s an FDR in this bunch, he or she has yet to say boo.
And if the Democrats clean up in the November midterms, it will be less a mandate and more a case of swing voters – disaffected independents and moderates – holding our noses and picking the seemingly lesser of two evils.
Which is how President Trump got elected in the first place.
As for the media, reporters from national outlets to local seem more committed than ever to “journalism by rollercoaster.” They lurch from crisis to crisis, sideshow to sideshow, context and news judgment be damned, a bloodthirsty mass with the judiciousness of a mosquito on sweaty flesh.
Many reporters posit that “fake news” is the fault of a dumb public unable to discern the difference between fiction and fact.
My take? If real news wasn’t so full of cliches and so often so wrong, fake news would never have taken hold. When a Russian bot can capture the public’s attention, but a real news reporter can’t, perhaps it’s not the public’s fault, but the fault of shoddy real news.
Which isn’t to say the public merits full acquittal. Used to be, I was a news junkie – a columnist and radio yakker who consumed journalism like comfort food.
Now? I’m less curious about the front page than the box scores or obituaries. I’ve run out of curiosity, despite decades of being taught that understanding current events isn’t merely smart – it’s our civic duty.
How I miss simpler times, when Walter Cronkite summed each day by saying, “And that’s the way it is.” Cronkite said it, so it was true.
The way it is today? Who knows? And, most days, it’s so confusing and distasteful, who can summon the energy to care?