August 7, 2011 in Opinion

Smart Bombs: Dog days of journalism

By The Spokesman-Review

While awaiting a doctor’s appointment, I picked up a copy of People magazine and skimmed its cutting-edge journalism. This is odd, because I’m not a People person. Anyway, one item consisted of an archived photo of actress Olivia Wilde and the enlarged text of a tweet in which she reveals that she only shares her bed with her dog.

To those who view journalists as “content providers,” this must be a dream. The subject writes the item. Somebody grabs an old photo. And, just like that, news! No pesky reporters occupying desks, running up the phone bill, using all the notebooks or clamoring to be paid.

Furthermore, this is information that is highly desired, as evidenced by the two young women – sisters, perhaps – who dove for the magazine after I was finished with it. This gives new meaning to that old Streisand song: “People … people who need People. …”

So, is this the future of political coverage, too? We’ve already had one presidential primary debate conducted on Twitter, and it sure was easier and cheaper than the traditional kind.

Ultimately, this will be up to readers, because if they’d just as soon read compilations of political utterings on Twitter, I’m certain there are content publishers who would accommodate them.

Brief encounters. I’m trying to imagine how this Twitter-based correspondence might have played out had the technology been available earlier:

Muckrakers – uptonsinclair@twitter: “Don’t eat the meat.”

McCarthyism – jmccarthy@twitter: “Getting some anonymous tweets. Edward R. Murrow … a Red?”

Civil Rights Movement – gwallace@twitter: “Outside agitators tramplin’ on states’ rights. Our colored folks ain’t complain’n.”

Watergate – ggordonliddy@twitter: “Time for an evening stroll. Dark clothes … check. Flashlight … check. Almost forgot the tape.”

Vietnam – lbj@twitter: “Light at end of tunnel.”

Pentagon Papers – dellsberg@twitter: “Vietnam … government lying. If only there were institutions that would report without fear of lawsuits.”

Clinton – “Bridge to the 21st century. I feel your pain. I love a blue dress.”

9/11 attacks – “Hijackers are Saudis. Confess, Saddam!”

Iraq – “Are we gonna find WMD? Yes. Will we be here in eight years? No.”

Uncanny. “Kick the can” was invoked incessantly in the debt ceiling debate. As in, “We need to solve this problem now, not kick the can down the road.”

Soon after that “crisis” passed, a real one arose that brought to mind the children’s game of “Kick the Can.” The FAA was partially shut down, because of a budget standoff in Congress. In this version of the game, nobody wanted to be “It,” so they all ran off and hid. So the FAA had to halt hundreds of projects, idling 70,000 construction workers.

If not for an outraged public, Congress might’ve continued the game into this week and, perhaps, through the entire August recess. The “solution” was to – all together now – kick the can down the road by adopting a temporary FAA reauthorization for the 21st time since a portion of its budget was taken hostage in 2007.

So, after recess, they can play the game again.

Canned response. Here’s a handy shortcut for judging whether members of Congress procrastinated on the issue of long-term spending: Did they take any steps to control health care costs?

Spending related to the wars, stimulus and bailouts will go away. Spending on health care will not. In fact, it will continue to gobble larger portions of the budget, because health care inflation outpaces average inflation. Most of this spending is deemed mandatory, meaning it is not subject to annual appropriation bills. Think Medicare and Medicaid.

As a percentage of the total federal budget, discretionary spending peaked in 1967 and has been on a downward trajectory ever since, according to the Congressional Budget Office. This is what Congress cut to end the debt ceiling impasse.

So, yeah, they kicked the can down the road.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at or at (509) 459-5026.

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