In the ‘before’ time, we just would not have known

The Op-Ed Page

Her Twitter profile image.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

One of the benefits of growing older is that you remember when things were different. We now have adults who were born after 9/11. There is no “before” time for them, no frozen moment when they realized we were being attacked.

Similarly, the fact that Nicky Minaj’s tweet about – and if you haven’t heard about this, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you – her cousin’s friend’s testicles will not strike people younger than a certain age as unusual. They don’t remember a time when it would have been impossible to know about said testicles.

But in the before time, say the mid-seventies when I was a teenager and began to be interested in the wider world, we received our news in aliquots. Like many of my contemporaries, I started reading the morning paper and watching the evening news. There was often a lag time between big news stories and when they were reported. This cuts both ways. In a hurricane, up-to-date news can be life-saving. But sometimes having hours to get a story straight before the presses started rolling provided readers a much clearer picture the morning after than could have been given the day of the event.

I have also experienced the sweet anticipation that is no more. If there was a ball game I had missed, I had three choices. Call a friend, stay up for the 11 o’clock news and hope it was mentioned, or wait for tomorrow morning’s paper (which is what I usually did). Then there was the reading of the box score trying to piece together the ebb and flow of the game.

I’m not suggesting we go back. I like my immediate highlights as much as the next man. But I know it wasn’t always so, and have a sense of the wonder of instant results – as well as a twinge of sadness for what we have lost.

I recently was given a new laptop for my medical record at work. The toolbar was set so that when I hovered over a certain icon in the bottom right corner, a news feed would appear. I found this infinitely distracting and disabled it. I can’t ponder the issues of the day while I’m caring for patients – my brain’s not big enough.

For me, the time for current events is while I’m getting ready for and commuting to work – and when I’m commuting back home.

For those that missed it, let’s review Nicky’s tweet from 9/13. In response to questions about why she did not attend the Met Gala, she reported that she had not been vaccinated. Then she tweeted the reason: “My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision, not bullied.”

What I know, because I remember the before time, is that this third-hand, difficult-to-believe anecdote of questionable provenance should have only been shared by Minaj to her inner circle, i.e., people she actually knows and talks to. In the before time, the only way for her to publically disseminate such a dubious claim would have been during a live radio or television interview. My sense is that any editor or producer of a taped interview would have cut this story since it is so flimsy – and also possibly harmful. It may encourage some of her “stans” to eschew the vaccine.

In the seventies, the only print publication that might have carried this tidbit would have been the National Enquirer – along with rumors of celebrity breakups and the latest alien abduction.

Minaj did get plenty of pushback on Twitter (would that be “Tweetback”?), including “’My cousin’s friend’ is the start to a story that totally happened” and my personal favorite “when u get an STI and don’t want ur girl to know.”

But, to my young friends: None of us should know anything about this. Imagine you are a cub reporter, presenting this story idea to your news editor, Brad Warthen. Think of the many questions he might have for you: Have you talked to an infectious disease doctor to see if this has been a reported side effect? (Answer: If this ever happens, it’s exceedingly rare); Have you talked with the person in question? (Answer: No one, including the health ministry of Trinidad and Tobago, has been able to find him); How about a story on Beyonce? I’m more Beyhive than Barbz.

Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, SC. Reach him at pvdemarco@bellsouth.net.

19 thoughts on “In the ‘before’ time, we just would not have known

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Paul, I wrote you a headline and made a few edits of punctuation and typos.

    I made one substantive change that I want to check with you, since it was made on the basis of an assumption.

    You had written “It may discourage some of her ‘stans’ to eschew the vaccine.”

    I assumed you had meant “encourage” instead of “discourage.”

    Let me know if I was wrong about that…

    Reply
  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Regarding this:

    Imagine you are a cub reporter, presenting this story idea to your news editor, Brad Warthen. Think of the many questions he might have for you: Have you talked to an infectious disease doctor to see if this has been a reported side effect? (Answer: If this ever happens, it’s exceedingly rare); Have you talked with the person in question? (Answer: No one, including the health ministry of Trinidad and Tobago, has been able to find him); How about a story on Beyonce? I’m more Beyhive than Barbz.

    My response to that, aside from the fact that I have not supervised a “cub reporter” since I left The Jackson Sun in 1985 (there, I had actually hired two or three people right out of school; after that, I only worked with more seasoned journalists), is this, which I emailed back to Paul:

    Surely you’re not suggesting that I would suggest someone do “a story on Beyonce?”

    I’d be no more interested in that than a story on this Minaj person.

    I’d probably just glare at the “reporter” until the poor, deluded creature wandered away so I could do actual work. And if I had time, I’d call security to ask how the person got into the building. But I’m just guessing, since I never had anything remotely like this happen….

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Actually, technically speaking, I might be very slightly more interested in hearing about Beyoncé, because I know a tiny bit about her.

      Here’s what I know…

      Maybe 10 years after the third Austin Powers movie came out, I was watching it again on one of the screening services on my TV, and I happened to say out loud, “That actress playing the female lead is really, really beautiful. I wonder what ever happened to her?” That is, I had been somewhat familiar with Elizabeth Hurley and Heather Graham when I saw the first two, so who was THIS beauty?

      My wife looked at me like she was looking at the Idiot of the World, and said, “That’s Beyoncé.”

      Oh. OK. I had heard the name. So, I thought, that’s what she looks like…

      Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I assumed it was a play on “fan.” I did look it up, just as I did “Barbz.”

      I’m not sure why the language needed a term for an extreme fan, since fan is short for “fanatic,” which one would think would be extreme enough…

      Reply
  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    As to something else Paul mentions:

    “… sometimes having hours to get a story straight before the presses started rolling provided readers a much clearer picture the morning after than could have been given the day of the event.”

    Well, of course. But wow, that’s really a world that’s gone with the wind. You can long for a world with, say, air as clean as before the internal combustion engine, and theoretically achieve it through sustained, determined global action.

    But can you cause news people’s sense of time return to a publish-once-a-day rhythm? I don’t know how.

    And it’s a shame. Lord knows we made plenty of mistakes, and had to leave a lot out of stories for lack of time to run them down, back when we had just one or two deadlines a day. But we might as well have been publishing books, compared to today.

    I remember I used to feel sorry for my friends who worked for wire services. As rushed as I was, trying to push through a bunch of stories in one cycle, I really felt for them, because for them every second of the day was a deadline, without an end.

    Now everyone in news lives in that world.

    As a result, the reporting is consequently sloppier, messier, far less complete, and painfully superficial. And it’s not the reporter’s or the editor’s fault (although of course, some will function in this environment better than others). It’s the times in which they live.

    And aside from turning from newspapers to The New Yorker or The Atlantic for your news, I don’t know what a reader — much less the poor journalist — can do about it…

    Reply
  4. Ken

    1) Even a newborn has a “before time.” But it’s not going to be the same “before time” as that of a 90-year-old. In short, before times have always and will always differ.

    2) Rumor and news are different things. Always have been. That’s no different in the internet age: people have and will continue to confuse the two or believe the former and not the latter.

    3) I had not heard this little item and likely would not have heard of it without the “benefit” of this post. Which makes it kind of … ironic.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes, I’m with you on No. 3. You probably would not have heard it from me — and only partly because I wouldn’t have known about it, beyond the fact that I had seen a headline (to a story I declined to read) saying this particular entertainer had said something stupid on Twitter.

      But the point in having contributors such as Paul is that they choose to say, and write about, things I would ignore, or not write about, or disagree with…

      Reply
  5. bud

    In the seventies, the only print publication that might have carried this tidbit would have been the National Enquirer – along with rumors of celebrity breakups and the latest alien abduction.
    – Paul

    With all due respect that is simply not true. The grocery store checkout was full of tabloid papers including the Globe (founded 1954), Star (1974) and National Examiner. In addition book stores were chock full of gossip magazines featuring sensational gossip and trash conspiracy theories. We all like to wax nostalgic about the good ole days but they weren’t really that good now were they?

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, I think when Paul says “National Enquirer,” he means all that trash you see at a grocery store checkout. In other words, a category rather than a specific pub. That’s how I understood it. You know, the things we all see, but don’t buy and read. I hope…

      Reply
  6. bud

    There is another side to this. In the ‘good ole days’ much of what was newsworthy tended to be reported with little competition. The State newspaper for instance had a near monopoly on state government ‘news’. As a result only one side ever got presented on some important issues. That monopoly control can be dangerous. That led to the awful restructuring debacle of the early 90s. Perhaps today we’d get a more nuanced view of the state of affairs in state government rather than some ideologue inspired hit piece.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      “As a result only one side ever got presented on some important issues.”

      That is completely and utterly untrue.

      And yes, Bud, we know you didn’t want to see our grossly dysfunctional state government — built for a handful of slaveholders who were long gone, and pretty much useless to a modern state — reformed. You’ve made that point. For my part, I’ve made the point that it desperately needed — and still needs — to get fixed. And I’ve made that point, many, many times, from the early 90s to the present day…

      I believe your opposition is based on the messy NON-reform that lawmakers imposed on the highway department. Which, of course, was not anywhere near what we were seeking, but they wanted to do something THEY could call reform, and call it a day….

      Reply
      1. bud

        My biggest problem I had with The State back then was there absolute utter lack of any follow up of the catastrophe they helped unleash. I kept looking for some, any kind of follow up. Some attempt to explain how it all worked out. Nada, Zip, Zero. Perhaps with the many available sources available today something might have come to light.

        Another corporate led blunder unfolded in 2002, the Iraq war debacle. The internet was still new then. And cheerleading corporate news organizations like the NYT prevailed in garnering support for that disaster. But in those early days of the internet there was a budding counter-narrative out there for those willing to do a little digging. But it was drowned out by the mighty corporate elites. Still, there were sources that showed the Bush administration was lying. So I’m just not buying this good ole days narrative. Sure there are problems with the new age media. But lets not gloss over the failures of the corporate media.

        Reply
        1. randle

          Agree with Bud on corporate news’s epic failure on Iraq. I found those sources on the Internet myself. But the scribes just kept on typing what they were told. It hasn’t gotten any better. The Washington press corps, the news outlets — very few serious questions. Narrative continues to be Biden’s collapsing presidency, this time his polling, which is higher than Trump’s ever was. But he’s boring. They can’t wait for Mr. Clickbait to return. The NYT again leads the charge, refusing to acknowledge the GOP attempts to shred the electoral process, while treating the chief insurrectionist just like any other politician: “When Will Trump Answer the 2024 Question?” Press just can’t wait for a guy who tried to overthrow the government to try it again. Click, click, boom.
          No attention to speak of paid to the Eastman memo. Some Fourth Estate.
          And then there’s Facebook… doing what it can to help.

          Reply
  7. Paul DeMarco

    Bud, thanks for reading my posts so closely. I was using the National Enquirer as representative of a type of publication. Back in the day, there was legitimate news and tabloids, and it was fairly clear to most people which was which. Now the lines are blurred, especially with the proliferation of opinion writing on the internet, which some people mistake for news.
    Ken, you are, of course, correct about everyone having a different “before time.” Now that I’m almost 60, I realize that some of the things that were foundational to the formation of world view no longer exist. I know there is no going back, but I think it’s worth noting. Yesterday I saw a young couple soothing a crying child who could not have been much more than a year old with an iPhone video. They may see that as a natural and obvious choice. Because I raised my children before cell phones, I have a different perspective and may be better equipped to recognize the potential harms of early exposure to screens.

    Reply
    1. randle

      “There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

      In my pursuit of wisdom, right up there is ignorance of the state of the testicles of some guy in Trinidad.

      I posted something last week, I think, about the decline in the forms or conventions that unite democratic societies. This is a good example of a couple of conventions we’ve lost, much to my regret. Like Paul said, back in the day, neither Nicki Minaj’s musings or this guy’s swollen body parts would have been considered an appropriate or newsworthy story for the reasons Paul stated. I’m glad our society is more open than when I was young, but it’s time to come to some new consensus of what benefits and what debases a society. And agreeing on what the core beliefs and pursuits of a democratic society should be. We’re burying ourselves in garbage, and ignoring the dumpster fire burning through our society.

      Reply
  8. Ken

    The internet is just a symbol of the sped up, consumerist life. It’s part of the larger, urgent search for quick satisfaction. But since it’s never is able to bring a sense of lasting fulfillment, it feeds on itself in a continuous feedback loop of alternating satisfaction and dissatisfaction. That’s the underlying basis of the “online life,” not algorithms and social media’s encouragement of “engagement.” If employed with skill, and great care, the internet can occasionally turn up something that sparks a brief flurry of thoughtfulness. But we’re quickly pulled away to something else, frequently trivial. So the effect of that moment is often quite fleeting and not encouraging of good judgment.

    The antidote isn’t necessarily a slower life. I think back on my grandparents’ generation and all the time spent on the front porch, watching the traffic, watching the world go by. Their lives were much slower. But were they more thoughtful, more aware, more reflective or keener in their observations? Doesn’t seem so. While that life may have been in its own way more relaxing and pleasant, the haze of nostalgia makes it seem more mindful than it was.

    The sped up, filled up life may make it harder to catch hold of what’s truly insightful and meaningful. But whether lived fast or slow, life will be empty and deceptive if lived inattentively and without discernment.

    Reply

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