Wednesday, April 29, 2009

sick and tired of the swine news

When a story like the swine flu dominates headlines nationally, the pressure to localize the news story makes the prospect of going to work each day grim. i've seen photos of the steelworkers who used to labor the mills along the rivers in this city-- those of the workers at the end of a shift, with expressions of utter dejection, soot-faced, exhausted and knowing the same waits for them the following day. minus the soot, i share their end of day labor expression.

Yesterday a woman reported symptoms akin to those found in swine flu, and Allegheny County sent a swab sample of her sinuses to be tested for swine flu. This was the headline news story, until the news broke that her sample tested positive for the influenza virus but was still inconclusive for swine flu. This was "breaking" news-- an Allegheny Co. woman had the flu, and it might be swine flu.

Why suspect the swine flu? Because the media's supersaturated coverage of the swine flu story has sensationalized this story enough to have everyone who listens too closely behaving like a hypochondriac. And if that's not enough, as is the case with this bullshit headline story (which, btw, I wrote, albeit with a figurative gun to my head) the news spins it to fit their needs. The story said not only did she test positive for flu and inconclusive for swine flu, but she also has "a travel history to Mexico" which does not mean she'd recently been to Mexico. It means she's been there before at some time in the past, that's all. Big deal.

What's crazy is it's not intentional to over-hype and fearmonger to this degree as the conspiracy theorists claim -- it's simply natural after those responsible for reporting the news become conditioned to working in an over-hyped and sensationalized environment, which the news station is. To be in the newsroom reminds me of the bees you see, close-up in the hive, under the camera lens of a Discovery documentary-- how they are flitting around and crawling over one another on the honeycomb. Busy. Fucking. Bees.

They've been so busy it hasn't occurred to anyone at the station yet to use their new favorite news tool, twitter, as a way of keeping the viewers up-to-date on the spread of the virus. This actually would be a sound application of technology, if the virus was the threat it's being made to be (which it isn't) and wouldn't be just another tool in the fearmonger's toolbelt (which it would be).

It'll be like a bear swatted the hive when I go in today; the first confirmed death from the swine flu in the U.S. was reported-- an infant in Texas. I'm just going to imagine my cubicle in the station is a hexagonal cell in the honeycomb, and I'll occupy this space and tolerate the buzz just like the steelworkers tolerated the heat and soot, until it's time to go home, and drink.

Here's a poem I wrote some time ago while living in New York for which I've developed a renewed appreciation of late.

Local Newscasters

My friend in TV says they’re all
drunks, every last one of them
from the evening crew to the morning
news first at 5AM.

Some show up sauced for work
like the rush-hour traffic girl
who booted a bellyful of bloody marys
her last time up in the helicopter.

Ask anyone in makeup how much
foundation the meteorologist must wear
to seal the gin inside his pores
before he goes on-air, and

listen for the lisp of the sportscaster
who outed himself after too much
champagne this year at the station’s
Christmas celebration.

Consider their lives spent
sticking to the cards, reporting the facts
in a rented suit and a voice paved
smooth over regional accent,

all in exchange for recognition
in line at the supermarket, maybe
an invitation to speak to the graduating
class of some local high school.

As proof, my friend points
to the anchorman, elbows
weighing down the end of the bar,
sipping his whiskey staring

into the mirror like a camera
obscura -- at the inverse of a person
he never knew. The person
we see on Channel 2 everyday.

1 comment:

Jannie said...


This is a deft and interesting piece- I'm digging the insight from within the hive mind. Long may it my past exp, I've been part of the machine through which complex stories of human mass misery are adjusted to fit the prevailing tropes on Africa, and can be distilled into 30 second slots for the evening news. It grinds.