Are we in the midst of a national nervous breakdown?

Note to editors and producers: While I only attended journalism school for a few months before developing a career-ending allergy to carbon paper, I did learn a few things that you seem to have forgotten. Like for example, the definition of news … For example, this week the two leading stories in the United States are ...

Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Note to editors and producers: While I only attended journalism school for a few months before developing a career-ending allergy to carbon paper, I did learn a few things that you seem to have forgotten. Like for example, the definition of news …

For example, this week the two leading stories in the United States are that men are dogs and that politicians are dumb. Or, to put it another way, the stop-the-presses revelations of the week are that sex makes men stupid while going into politics tends to do the same to people regardless of gender.

How is any of this news? Did it take a Twitter scandal to persuade people that Anthony Weiner had personality issues? Did it take a misstatement about Paul Revere to convince the U.S. public that Sarah Palin was not going to give David McCullough a run for his money as the country's top historian?

Note to editors and producers: While I only attended journalism school for a few months before developing a career-ending allergy to carbon paper, I did learn a few things that you seem to have forgotten. Like for example, the definition of news …

For example, this week the two leading stories in the United States are that men are dogs and that politicians are dumb. Or, to put it another way, the stop-the-presses revelations of the week are that sex makes men stupid while going into politics tends to do the same to people regardless of gender.

How is any of this news? Did it take a Twitter scandal to persuade people that Anthony Weiner had personality issues? Did it take a misstatement about Paul Revere to convince the U.S. public that Sarah Palin was not going to give David McCullough a run for his money as the country’s top historian?

As far as I can tell, the Weiner scandal is the third major sex scandal to impact a high-profile political figure in the U.S. in the past three weeks. (See Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn for variations on this age-old theme.) It’s the fourth if you count the on-going saga of John Edwards. As for Palin’s remarks, it’s not only not the first evidence that she is not what you would call an intellectual heavy-weight, but it is part of a torrent of mangled views of history emanating recently from Republican presidential candidates. (See also Michele Bachmann on the location of the battles of Lexington and Concord and Santorum on the idea that U.S. troops landed in Normandy to fight against Obamacare.)

What makes this news? This is all dog-bites-man. It’s doesn’t even qualify for the entertainment value exemption from news. Naked pictures of a middle-aged Jewish nerd? Naked ignorance from a woman whose checkered college career included a series of brief stops at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu, North Idaho College, the University of Idaho, Matanuska-Susitna College, and then back at the University of Idaho (with a sidetrip to finish third in the Miss Alaska pageant)?

These aren’t even the most shocking or most clueless performances from politicians this week.  Not even close. On the domestic front, we have a raging debate about the debt ceiling and the deficit in a country suffering from an employment and a housing crisis. On the international front, that same (broke) country is spending two billion dollars per week to prolong an unwinnable foray into a godforsaken corner of the planet that is already desperately trying to forget we were ever there.  It also seems to be participating in an effort to obliterate one Arab dictator in brazen violation of the terms of the U.N. mission we are allegedly fulfilling while ignoring serial human rights abuses from others in the same neighborhood.

In other news, the woman who runs the most important country in Europe, the Chancellor of Germany, is on a state visit to Washington. Her country holds the key as to whether Europe — and thus the rest of the world — will avoid an economic catastrophe. It also is a country that has managed to create jobs and grow even as the rest of the developed world reeled post crisis. Not that those things are more important than Twittered crotch shots or a slight mischaracterization of the facts of an event that took place a couple of centuries ago.

Could it be that we are less interested in Angela Merkel than Sarah Palin because Palin is prettier? Could it be that we are more interested in the puerile peccadilloes of a New York congressman because he has a funny last name?

Come to think of it, maybe there is a dog-bites-man news story in there after all.  An aging nation in the midst of dire economic and foreign policies has turned into a bunch of giggling eight-year-olds. That’s a newsworthy twist … or a warning sign of a national nervous breakdown.  It would also explain why the U.S. news media is behaving like it was run by the editors of a third-grade newspaper.

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf
Tag: Media

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.