MONDAY, JANUARY 17, 2022
"Everybody can be great," Dr. King once said: Covid officially hit this nation during the second week of March, in the year 2020.
(On March 11, the NBA suspended its season. Everyone else followed suit.)
As such, it has been almost two years since the pandemic officially started. And yet, consider what readers will encounter in print editions of this morning's New York Times.
In print editions, the featured report in the "National" sections appears beneath the banner headline shown below. Have we mentioned the fact that it's been two years since the pandemic started?
Two years later—after 850,000 deaths—the New York Times is treating this as the primary topic in its "National" section today. For the vast majority of Times subscribers, this will seem to make perfect sense.
The full report by Tara Parker-Pope consumes the entirety of page A12—the first page in today's National section. This strikes us as very strange news judgment, but the Times is hardly alone.
Last Friday, the Washington Post published two lengthy news reports under the following headlines:
Two years in, the CDC was reporting that the sky is blue and the grass is green when it comes to protection from masks. The Post was supplementing the CDC's Rep Van Winkle-style report with a Winkle report all its own—a report which told us readers, two years later, how often we can safely reuse a mask.
In fairness, no—it isn't just the Post and the Times (and the CDC) who are arriving at the scene of the blaze roughly two years later. This morning, scanning through New York magazine's Intelligencer site, we found a similar report by Charles Danner, a report which appeared last Friday.
Danner is saying the sky is blue too! On its front page, the Intelligencer summarizes the report through this pair of headlines:
Seriously, Upgrade Your Face Mask
Omicron is everywhere. Infectious disease doctor Abraar Karan explains why it's long past time to start wearing high-filtration respirators like N95s.
Seriously though, folks! You need to upgrade those masks—and Danner has found a doctor who can tell you why.
Danner's report appears two years later. That second headline introduces a narrower, but highly revealing, second point of concern.
In that sub-headline, the Intelligencer uses an unexplained technical term. More specifically, it uses a term which has gone unexplained for the past two years.
In that sub-headline, the Intelligencer says we should start wearing "respirators." More specifically, we should start using "high-filtration respirators like N95s."
As far as we know, that's excellent advice. Of course, that has also been excellent advice all through the past two years.
That said, treat yourself to a research project on this latest King Day. Go out and survey a thousand people on the street where you live:
Ask them to explain the difference between a "respirator" and a "mask." Ask them if there actually is a difference.
See if five people out of a thousand can answer those basic questions. Then, read through the four lengthy reports to which we've offered links today. All four use that unfamiliar term without explaining what it means, creating confusion and incomprehension as they go.
(You'll find other obvious questions going unaddressed, unexplained.)
All four reports use that unfamiliar term "respirator" without explaining what the term actually means. For what it's worth, we've been marveling at this widespread breakdown in journalistic competence for at least the past year.
No one knows what a "respirator" is—but none of our high-end journalists seem to have recognized the fact that this unfamiliar technical term should perhaps be defined at some point. They simply plow ahead, offering their contributions to this latest source of incomprehension—to the types of confusion which plague all attempts at public discourse here in our failing land.
What the heck is a "respirator?" How the heck does a "respirator" differ from a mere mask? In an intellectually competent world, answering these questions would be a blindingly obvious part of the basic blocking and tackling of basic, front-line reporting.
For at least a year at this point, we've marveled at the way our front-line journalists fail to see the need to explain this widely-used technical term. The woods are lovely, dark and deep—but our society's intellectual skills are just extremely limited, and we're all paying the price.
Long ago and far away, Dr. King made an important true statement. His statement went like this:
DR. KING (2/4/68): Everybody can be great. Because everybody can serve.
You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
Dr. King spoke to, and for, a constituency which had often been denied the fruits of formal "education." In this statement, he was affirming the fact of their moral greatness.
Meanwhile, it's certainly true:
A person doesn't need to be "educated"—doesn't need to be formally skilled—to be morally great. That said, a giant modern society can't expect to function successfully in the widespread absence of basic intellectual and journalistic skills.
As a people, we simply don't have such skills; that fact is increasingly clear. Simply put, we never have a serious discussion of any major issue at all. Simply put, intelligent discussion plays no role—none at all—in our failing national discourse.
Our skill levels don't permit such discussions. As a people, we go straight to tribal narrative—to fabulized novelizations, to Storyline all the way down. We complain about the other tribe's novels while reveling in the pleasures supplied by our own.
Everywhere President Roosevelt looked, he saw "one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished." Everywhere we look today, we see a failed attempt at public discussion.
We'll focus on Rachel Maddow this week to show you one of the ways this works. But no, a modern society can't function this way. Things may be coming apart.
Tomorrow: Last Wednesday's first nine minutes—protagonist introduced