I’m guilty of it, and I think anyone who writes about or covers news is too. And that is treating stories about things that are abhorrently wrong as run-of-the-mill news items. We try to put everything in boxes, in confines that are familiar to us — and to you, the readers. We try to create normalcy around situations that are not normal.
We have become numb to so much that is catastrophic. We categorize these catastrophes as “breaking news” so much so that we have become numb to “breaking news.” We fill our stories with numbers to try to encapsulate the severity of the news. We’ve become numb to numbers. We try to put humanity into stories about the lives of those affected. We’ve become numb to their stories.
And for other news that deals less with humanity and more with manifestation, we sensationalize. We gin up headlines, post brazen photos or videos, and obsess over the peripheral in order to ratchet up clicks, create melodrama, and tally up numbers.
Of course, these approaches to news are nothing new. We’ve come to accept all this in a way that has made us react mechanically and be anesthetized to the output. It’s the new — or more appropriately, engrained — normal.
Three jarring incidents happened this week that were not normal, yet we — collectively all of us in the news — covered a murder, a presidential primary debate, and an indicted former U.S. president surrendering to authorities. By lessening the severity of what happened, we risk becoming immune to what lies ahead.
This week a woman was shot and killed because she flew a Pride flag. We reported on this crime. And while other news media did too, they moved on, because to them, they assume — and rightly so — that they’ll be another shooting about a Pride flag or a violent antigay hate crime or a child prohibited from getting gender-affirming medical care.
However, our digital editor, Alex Cooper, decided that moving forward we’re going to start covering these violent losses to our community in a more thoughtful way by focusing more on the victims, talking to people who knew them, and giving them the spotlight rather than focusing on the perpetrator.
Losing Carleton and the hundreds, if not thousands like her, who were killed because of their association with the LGBTQ+ community is not normal, and because of this we need to stop and think about the impactful news of these gruesome hate crimes before we move on to the next major news story. In other words, the next spectacle, since spectacle too often becomes a substitute for what is news.
In this case, it was the first Republican presidential primary debate on Wednesday night. We — again, collectively all of us — covered it in the parameters of how a debate has always been covered. Who won. Who lost. Who looked best. Who had the best body language. We gave the best zinger. Who looked like a leader. Who seemed most trustworthy. Who was more nervous. And on and on and on.
But this was anything but a normal debate. We had people, wanting to be president, defending a twice-impeached, four-times-indicted, blatantly racist ,insurrectionist former president. Most of them oohed and aahed about what Donald Trump did for our country. Almost all then said they’d pardon him if they became president. Think about that for a moment. They would let Trump, an avowed felon, roam free.
Even his vice president said something to the effect that he’d wait and see what happens with the indictments before he decides about pardoning. These pathetic people looked like stooges standing up there raising their hands as they looked to one another for validation.
The candidates have stooped so low, and we have come to accept the garbage of their utterances so that rather than be astonished by their proclamations, we just treated it as another of many flash points.
Much of the media swanned over the performance of Vivek Ramaswamy. He looked comfortable. He was well spoken. He gave as good as he got. They blew right by this jaw-dropping line, “Let’s just speak the truth. President Trump, I believe, was the best president of the 21st century. It’s a fact.” Granted, that puts Trump in limited company, but Ramaswamy’s message was clear.
All of this is not normal by any stretch of the imagination. It is deceitful. It is dangerous. It is completely out of the realm of normalcy. All of it. All the murmurings about what the debate would be like without Trump — I’m guilty of that — all of the Monday morning quarterbacking that followed. The candidates were standing up for a criminal, and we treated it and reacted to it as standard operating procedure.
Finally, a former U.S. president turned himself in to a county jail where seven inmates have died this year. And once again, the media followed Trump down his rabbit hole.
How did Trump get a motorcade with over a dozen vehicles and numerous cops on motorcycles to escort him from Hartsfield Airport to the Fulton County jail? Ex-presidents usually ride around with a car or two. But Trump? He made it look like he was still president, and the media followed him, covering his private plane landing and taxiing, and offering overhead shots of the phony motorcade on highways cleared of traffic. And we watched in captivation. The motorcade of a train wreck. Because on the other side of that breathless trip to surrender, there would be that infamous mug shot.
And oh, how the media tripped over themselves talking about the significance of that mug shot. The New York Times even analyzed the mug shot. Talked about Trump’s fixation with images of himself, how the mug shot was taken with an overhead light, the historical significance of mug shots, and if we even need mug shots.
Of all the commotion Trump has caused around the fringes of his destruction, a frenzy about the mug shot played right into Trump’s hands. That and his obvious attempt to shield — and distract — from the main story by pre-submitting his height at 6’3” (an inch taller than when he was president) and 215 pounds. Certainly, there was his vaunted vanity involved; however, he knew we’d all fall over ourselves talking about the blatancy of his fictitious physique.
The fact that Trump tried to tear up Georgia’s voting laws, tear apart the state’s 2020 presidential election results, and tear down the innocent lives of poll workers Ruby Freeman, Shaye Moss, and others gets lost because of a second-rate headshot and a sham body mass index.
If all this diverted attention isn’t normal, then what is normal? Or have we passed the point of normal and normalized the new normal of detached emotionalism and distracted sensationalism? Twenty-four-hour cable news coverage that gave way to the internet that gave way to social media that will soon give way to artificial intelligence that will continue to bewilder, befuddle, and trivialize all we watch and read. Abnormality is now normal.
I’m not the first to lament what is happening or what has been happening to the way we cover news, the way newsmakers try to manipulate the news, and how the media falls for that manipulation. And how you, on the receiving end, start to consume what is happening to the world around us, and how we build up calluses to the collapsing of decency and standards.
Did you think the mug shot of Trump at the top of this story meant it was going to be about the novelty of his mug shot? Were you hoping to come away with another salacious tidbit about Trump? Were you wheedled into clicking on this column?
When in Rome...
John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate.
Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.