I’d been living on the rez for years and had worked my way up to starting guard in the Students Against Teachers game at the high school gym. Hoops is big on the rez. The gym was packed, with parents and sisters and brothers and aunts and uncles eager to see the students beat up the teachers.
Of course they did. Here’s what happened on one play that night.
I stole a pass and dribbled downcourt fast as I could go, Galen the junior high P.E. teacher trailing, one of my students catching up and passing me.
I drove to the hoop and leapt, and rather than take the easy shot I dished it off to Galen, who scored. The crowd applauded.
They applauded my pass.
Folks on the rez applaud a good pass.
And that, my fellow Americans, is what’s wrong with our country today.
No one applauds a good pass.
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit,” our great commoner-President Harry Truman said. Variations of the tru(man)ism have been traced back 2,000 years.
Clichés survive for a reason. But this one is dying, because so few of our corporate and political leaders — is there a difference anymore? — seem to care whether they accomplish anything, for good or ill, so long as Mr. Big gets the credit.
I have been a news editor for, lo, these 30 years. In these decades I have seen an immense number of people who once might have earned a half-honest living as news reporters flee to double their salaries and octuple their benefits to work as public relations flacks for government institutions.
Reporters’ benefits actually are more than octupled when they go on the government teat, but I don’t know the adjective for more than eight.
Government press flacks perform important and honorable functions. They help plebeians communicate with their political masters: point them toward the spinning doors. They direct poor press schlubs like me to experts. They announce things.
I have no problem with that. What I do object to is the slavish prose they turn out — not all of them, but most of them — surely upon instructions from the boss. On the public dime. Actually, on the public $80,000 a year — with federal bennies.
U.S. Attorneys’ Offices are among the chief offenders. Most of their PR handouts, for which taxpayers pay tens of millions of dollars, are self-serving promos for the boss.
They typically start like this: “U.S. Attorney Joe Blow, Senator Blow Harder, Congressman Puffing to Keep Up, FBI Regional Supervisory Agent Guy Man, and Department of Justice Under-Assistant Regional Promo Man announced today …” then comes the news.
I receive these “News releases” every day. Which you and I pay for. I don’t object to the information. I object to the truckling, sucking-up writing. From, ahem, public servants. It’s not fake news. It’s self-promoting news.
In Southern California, it’s usually a drug bust or a poor fellow arrested for watching kiddie porn on his computer, or for trying to hook up with a 14-year-old girl — lured in by FBI agents posing as little girls or pornographers.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course child pornography is vile and should be prosecuted. So is sex trafficking of children. I don’t object to these prosecutions.
I object to the wretched writing: to federal prosecutors and the FBI telling press flacks to put their names first, before the name of the child who was tortured to death: reaching for headlines on our dime. I object to spending millions of taxpayer dollars to advertise these politicians’ bogus derring-do, rather than report it.
And yes, a U.S. attorney these days is a politician.
Surely we have worse problems today than bad writing, but bad writing contributes to the disintegration of rational discourse. And this type of bad writing is a symptom of a horrible problem in our national politics: Our public officials are all ball hogs.