Like most of you, I watched, listened to, and read the coverage of John Stanford's death, the Aurora Bridge bus accident, and the Anacortes oil-refinery explosion. Names. Dates. Places. Speeds. Times. Distances. All these stories were shown, spoken, and written with the urgency and completeness that news-media consumers have grown to expect.
Meanwhile, homeless men, women, and children shivered on the streets and under bridges. Chain saws felled ancient trees. People were maimed and killed by handguns. Workers were laid off. Salmon died at the foot of dams. Kids skipped school. Jobs were exported. Poor, elderly men and women ate canned dog food.
We might actually be able to do something about those tragedies. But there isn't much we can do to prevent the kind of disasters we mostly hear about on the news—even if we had the time and the desire. A beloved member of the community dies and all we can do is grieve. An accident takes lives and all we can do is pray for the dead and their families. A natural disaster wipes out a community and all we can do is feel for the survivors. We sit there with nothing to do but feel bad. And we feel even worse because there's very little we can do that would make us feel better.
Think how things could be different if reporters told us more stories about underfed people, unsheltered people, unemployed people, undereducated people, underutilized people. People who hadn't died, but who might soon be dead if help didn't come their way. Maybe we'd get up off the couch and pick up the phone and call the mayor or the governor or our senator and tell them we need to spend more money on schools, environmental protection, and senior services. Maybe so many of us would make calls and do volunteer work that our elected officials would feel obliged to direct more resources to initiatives that can help people suffering from everyday disasters.
American culture is plagued by pacifying forces: consumerism, entertainment mania, drug abuse, sexual gratification, vicarious violence. The dominant news media, prone as it is to sensationalizing spiritually deadening stories while ignoring stories that could enliven the spirit, also deserves a place on this list. Stories that make us feel helpless do as much to spread social and political apathy as any shopping spree or video game.
How it is
Here are a few updates to our "Who Really Runs Seattle?" cover story of last month: St. Louisbased DeKalb Genetics, whose board of directors includes Penwest Pharmaceuticals CEO and Seattle Times board member Tod Hamachek, has been purchased by Monsanto, whose board includes former Nixon/Reagan cabinet member and local mover-and-shaker William Ruckelshaus. . . . Over the objections of Washington Mutual Bank executive and Housing Resources Group board member Bob Flowers, state housing officials are opposing HRG's plans to cancel the Section 8 contract of Belltown's Security House, plans that would have imperiled many of the 100 poor seniors and disabled people who live in the building. (See "Stealth Nonprofit," SW, 12/10.) . . . Former Boeing executive Doug Beighle and former Municipal League president Kathleen Pierce have purchased a 4,000-square-foot waterfront home in Magnolia for $1.56 million.
A pirate radio station operated by Industrial Workers of the World members in Gainesville, Florida, was raided November 30 by federal agents who seized equipment and fined the Wobblies $6,000. The growing federal crackdown on unlicensed, low-watt stations throughout the country could spell bad news for nascent local projects, such as Free Seattle Radio (which recently debuted on Capitol Hill at 87.9 FM) and North Seattle Grassroots Radio (which is holding fund-raisers and cobbling together equipment). Beware the FCC, folks.
Contrary to prevailing wisdom, TV viewers are actually less likely to remember commercials shown during violent programs than those aired during nonviolent shows, according to a study published in the December issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology. . . . The Association of Professionals in Infection Controls has concluded that personal hygiene products such as "germ-killing" toothbrushes and hand soap, carry "no proven infection-preventing benefit." . . . Recent UW grad Jeremy Simer, cofounder of the progressive student-run publication Ruckus!, will spend the next six months studying Mexico's labor movement, thanks to a prestigious Bonderman Honors Travel Fellowship. Congrats, Jeremy!
Progressive patron and good-guy real estate agent Michael Gross, profiled in this column last month ("Gross Generosity," 11/26), has been given his own political talk show on KIRO-AM 710. Michael's debut is at 3pm on Saturday, December 26. Tune in and turn on.
Research assistance was provided by Sheri Herndon and Liz White of the Seattle Independent Media Coalition.
This is the Weekly's last Media Culpa column. Mark Worth has decided to pursue other interests.