by Christine Bellini
A wise former journalist, turned legal aid attorney, once schooled me to remember to consider the source. It was reliable advice handed down to her from her mother, who, at the time she spoke these three powerful words, was cautioning against the assaults of high school gossip. The phrase stuck with her and through the years proved to be invaluable as she evolved as a mother of three to print journalist and finally attorney. The year our paths cross (1982) proved pivotal for us both and it wasn’t long before those three words became our mantra in navigating the complexities and comedies of hometown reporting.
That phrase comes to mind often these days as I consume my daily dose of talking head premonitions predicting the unavoidable trajectory of careening at breakneck speed off the fiscal cliff. In the wide open spaces of news “programming,” (the audacity implicit to packaging the news), you have to watch the repetitive blather that comprises the 24 hour news cycle — which feeds on our daily crisis, real and imagined — often enough to get to know the players and what their agendas are to determine for yourself the facts, if they exist at all.
Fortunately for me, my 87-year-old notoriously liberal mother is an expert at this, easily clocking an average of four, five, sometimes six hours a day, threaded among the rigors of holiday baking and daily bridge games — a consolation for her nocturnal powers. At practically any time of night or day she can recount with amazing accuracy what they’ve all said and surmise just who’s zoomin’ who.
Of course, you have to accept the context of her faithfulness and consider her sources. Of late Rachel Maddow reigns. Mika and Joe hold pre-breakfast court, though Joe is getting frightfully predictable, and Chris Matthews always delivers when it comes to talking about the brilliance of Camelot — well, even I know that.
But drill down to the correspondents and analysts and she’s got me beat. Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, NBC’s political analyst Chuck Todd, the affable Mike Barnacle, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and David Gregory, whose rise to knighthood on Meet The Press replacing the irreplaceable Tim Russert brought tears to her eyes, are all on a first name basis. She speaks of them like family members who are off doing more important things than the rest of us.
Yet, with all her vigilance, she had to admit with some exasperation that she didn’t understand all this talk of the fiscal cliff. And, frankly, neither did it seem, do any of her ‘go-to’ talking heads.
“I think it’s all trumped up,” she said on our way to decorating my sister’s tree (she is wont to using card game terminology). That same day, in an attempt to clarify the rising pressures coming to bear in this perfect storm, my brother sent a rather considered and equally challenging treatise on the fiscal shenanigans that have brought us to the precipice of this cliff which clearly challenges our very way of life. And although I consider myself well-educated, and the words in and of themselves were comprehensible, I fell short of understanding. And then I remembered to consider the source, in this instance a stock analyst, and it became increasingly clear.
Today’s headlines read that a fiscal deal may be near, which brings to question the motives of posturing doom and gloom, the politics of our headline crazed age. Most things are not as complicated as they appear. Just ask my 87-year-old mother who has heard it all. As we enter into the holiday season and return home to the villages that raised us, read the local papers. In them you will find a measure of accountability, promise and good cheer.
A former news editor, essay writer Christine Bellini is an editorial consultant who spends a good deal of her time pondering the cultural curiosities of The Hamptons from her Sag Harbor tree house.