Several years ago when I was working as a local reporter I arrived at the news office around 6 a.m. to find a woman sitting on the curb, the back door of her 60s-era van wide open. There was a sleeping bag, clothes and some sort of round satellite dish in the back. It was a moment straight out of Woodstock.
She stood up as I approached. Her brown hair was long and straight, parted down the middle Peggy Lipton style. She was wearing jeans and Birkenstocks, sans the socks. She moved in a hurky-jerky fashion.
Uh-oh, I thought. Got us a live one here this morning.
Since it was so early, the doors to the newspaper were locked. I knew the copy desk fellas would be inside, along with the sports desk and our news editor. We were an early afternoon paper. The newsroom would be buzzing but others employees wouldn’t arrive for several more hours.
It was just me and the lady standing between me and the front door.
Can I help you? I asked.
Yes, she said. I need to talk to a reporter.
I’m a reporter, I said. I’d come to regret that later. I should have told her that I was the Merry Maid come to clean the bathrooms.
In a rush of words, she explained to me that she had inside information that America was about to be destroyed and that we needed to do something about it immediately. I half-expected her to rip off her shirt and show me the gold-letter “S” emblazoned on her chest. Surely this woman thought I was her Lois Lane.
I hadn’t yet had a cup of coffee or a doughnut. I was a little foggy-brained in my response.
Uh. Come again, tell me how you know this? I asked.
Satellites, she explained. She’d heard the voices over the satellites.
Did I mention I’m not all that tech savvy? I didn’t even have a television in my home during those years. No telling what kind of voices a person can hear coming over a satellite.
Even so, I had a pretty good inkling that the lady I was speaking to wasn’t right in the head. Still, who am I to argue with the cosmos and crazy ladies? I listened to her story spill out. She was near tears, sick with worry, and I thought about my editors. Men both of them. They were all the time sticking me with one nasty job or another. Sending me where no man dared to go — to county meetings and jail cells. Besides, I reasoned, it really wasn’t up to me to decide whether the decimation of America is a newsworthy story or not. That was certainly a call the news editor ought to make.
So I invited the woman in, directed her to the boardroom, and offered her a cup of coffee. As wired as she was already, a little caffeine wasn’t going to harm her. Then I went in search of the editors, whistling all the way like Happy the first of the seven dwarfs.
Why did you invite that woman in? the editors chided me when I told them there was a lady waiting for them.
Apparently, she’d met them at the door too, but they’d both given her the brush off.
I played dumb.
Oh. You mean there’s something wrong with her? I asked. I thought she was just excited. I mean if I knew for certain America was being destroyed I might be a little discombobulated myself. (Did they see my smirk?) She told me that she’d heard the CIA discussing this over the satellite. Don’t you think if the nation is collapsing we ought to run a story in advance?
No! the managing editor said. Frustrated, he stormed off to the boardroom. I’ll handle her.
Sitting in my corner cubicle, I fought back laughter. Score one for women!
I hadn’t thought of that lady with the antenna atop her van in a very long time. Not until last week while listening to NPR’s Morning Edition. I’m an admitted NPR fan. I started listening back in the days of Bob Edwards and consider the few essays I’ve done for them to be some of the highlights of my writing career. NPR may be left of center but at least they deliver the news in a sensible fashion. There’s none of that yammering or yelling that Rush and Beck are so prone to do. Or Maddow and Olbermann.
But even they fell victim to wiley-old Harold Camping.
May 21st is the Rapture. A time when Christians believe they will be swept up in the sky…
NO! NO! NO! I yelled. My hair wrapped in Velcro curlers; my body in a towel. Not EU TU RENEE MONTAGNE!!!
This is in no way disavowing the damage done to people by the misguided and obviously manipulative Camping. His Family Radio has been raking in the millions off the fears of the unsuspecting. There are religious organizations all across this nation making false promises to those in search of a better life. Send in your seed faith money, says the preacher on the Inspiration Network, and just see what God will do!
It’s certainly worked for CEO David Cerullo. Inspiration Network pulls in a reported $100 million yearly. Cerullo takes a salary of $1.5 million. Most of the ministry’s monies comes in the form of donations. Bilking the blindly faithful is a common practice in America, home of the red-white-and-blue-bloods. And church people aren’t the only ones getting taken — Bernie Madoff continues to draw the praise of many for his ponzi scheme. His prison sentence is more like a trip to the day spa. He retains a prison consultant and entertains the adulation of fellow prisoners.
By comparison, Camping’s earnings are petty cash.
So how is it Camping was able to draw the sort of media firestorm usually reserved for Lindsay Lohan and Lady Gaga?
Because today’s journalists aren’t doing their job.
There was a time not-so-very-long ago, back before Twitter and Facebook ruled the airwaves, that a person had to have established credibility before a reputable journalist would even consider interviewing them, much less making their story headline news.
Those days are long over.
Now if it’s trending on Twitter, it’s headline news.
Today’s news is determined not by content and/or credibility, but by what everyone is talking about on Facebook or Twitter. It’s like the old party line on steroids.
Let a town be devastated by a tornado and for the next five days journalists are tracking every dust devil stirring across the country. If they live in places where even dust devils are rare, they drum up stories with headlines like, “What if…”
We journalists have done this to ourselves. We’ve trashed our own credibility. We’ve sold our souls over to tabloid TV. With newsrooms slashed to the bone, we’ve substituted investigative, smart journalism for the cheap and quick.
The Rapture is sensational.
Harold Camping is an old fart.
It’s like showing up at the Liar’s Club at the local diner, recording the conversation of every wise-ass in attendance, and then headlining the nightly news with opinion and calling it news.
It’s not news.
Harold Camping is the news anchor’s way of taking the cheap shots at Christians worldwide. It’s not smart journalism. It’s not even good journalism. It’s lazy reporting.
According to the Army News & the VA, our soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and our veterans are dying at the rate of 18 suicides a day and Harold Camping’s Rapture headlines on NPR? Over the past couple of years, we’ve lost more troops to suicide than we did to combat. That’s news. That ought to be headline news all across this nation. It ought to be the thing that we worry about. It ought to be the thing we are preparing for. It ought to be the thing that consumes us.
But, oh, yeah.
Suicide is so damn depressing. Who wants to talk about that?
It’s much more fun to mock old men and the misguided.
Shame on you, NPR. Shame on all you journalists who gave voice to Harold Camping while soldiers lay dying by their own hands.