When the U.S. government shut down two decades ago, it was a hot story, all right. You had two riveting personalities, President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, with each imagining himself to be a late 20th-century version of Gary Cooper in "High Noon" -- or was it "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
These were men on a mission. The drama was real and the personalities seemed bigger than life -- at least by the Beltway's standards.
Fast-forward to today, however, and the government shutdown is a media bad dream, coming on the heels of such slam-bang stories as Kanye and Kim, Miley Cyrus's (hardly)-shocking performance at the VMAs (calculated might be a better word for it) and all the other splashy headlines out there.
The news media face a double-whammy because the story is too important to ignore or diminish. Journalists must treat it seriously, though they wish they could move on to something else. This is not a story that plays well on television. There is no exploding car or red-faced politician shouting into a camera. It's tough for a serious journalist to get worked up.
Plus, it is difficult to explain, once you get past the hook of intensely partisan politics. If a network came down hard on participants on either side of the aisle, it would look like it was favoring one side or the other. That's fine for Fox News and MSNBC, which seem to pride themselves on catering to a particular political point of view.
And where are the personalities who give a big story some juice? President Barack Obama has become more and more professorial as he has increasingly gone gray in office. The electrifying figure form the 2008 campaign remains what seems like a distant memory. When you're counting on President Obama to supply the charisma a story like this has to have, then you're in for a tough time.
The story is dull -- but important. The story is hard to explain -- but it must be relayed to the masses (which means an element of dumbing down is in play). It's a nightmare.
Where have you gone, Mylie Cyrus? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
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