Our confusion between local and national

It started, more or less, in 1980…

This started as a comment, but I decided to make it a separate post, because it kept getting longer and longer…

This came from an exchange in which Doug Ross chided Barry for his long comments telling about things that happen on the local or state level hundreds of miles from us, and writing about them as though they held national or even universal meaning. Doug called the figures in these stories “political nobodies.” Barry took exception to that terminology. I responded:

In defense of Doug here. I agree with his point, although I would use different words to describe it.

Whether he’s right to say “nobodies” or not, the fact is that these cases shouldn’t get the national attention they get.

There used to be a clear distinction between national (and/or world) news and local news, and everyone more or less understood the difference. Forty years ago, or certainly 50 years ago, people understood that you don’t make a big, national deal out of local news.

That distinction is largely gone now. A lot of thing have gone into making that happen. You’ll see that most of it had to do with changes in people’s information sources:

  • The first step was 24/7 cable TV “news.” They had to fill every second of every day, and they couldn’t just talk about the same few legitimate national and international stories over and over all day. So they started filling some time with local news from everywhere, particularly quirky or shocking crime news. Gradually, people started to look upon those occurrences as having happened in their own communities, which is why people tend to have an exaggerated sense of the prevalence of crime.
  • The nationalization of local and regional politics. As recently as 20 years ago, or certainly 30 (the GOP took over the SC House, and instantly turned it radically more partisan, in 1994), the SC Legislature did not act like Congress. They were more about South Carolina issues than the Beltway Talking Points. A number of things went into this, particularly the rise of Fox News, which had an enormous effect on the Republican rank and file voters, convincing them that the national talking points WERE the most important things locally. Mind you, Democrats were getting more and more this way as well, partly in reaction to the GOP, and partly as a result of being hooked on that 24/7 stuff themselves.
  • The rise of the internet, which took the fire started by cable “news” and poured gasoline on it. The Rabbit Hole phenomenon, which I frequently mention, is a subset of this phenomenon.
  • The more or less complete disappearance of local news sources. You have a number of subfactors under this one. One is that there are far, far fewer — in some areas, I’d say less than 10 percent of what you once had — journalists working on these levels. Another is that so many of these ghosts of newspapers and TV stations still put out a product, but they grab content from anywhere to fill their webpages — a phenom much like what we saw earlier with cable “news.”

To get back to where we started, these people who do awful things in communities far from us SHOULD be covered — by local newspapers and other outlets. And their neighbors in those communities should care. But things are messed up when WE, so far away, regard those things as significant, and nationally meaningful. That distorts everything, including our ability to deal effectively and helpfully with the actual world around us…

33 thoughts on “Our confusion between local and national

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    It’s ironic, really…

    You’d think that with 24 hours to fill on the telly, and pretty much infinite space available on the Web for the written word, we’d get deeper and deeper into the true, meaningful issues.

    But we don’t. With some exceptions. As I’ve said before, I have found that professionally done podcasts, such as those I sometime cite from the NYT, have helped me get far beyond the headlines on issues of national and international importance. And I appreciate that.

    But for the most part, the written word and TV have gotten MORE facile and flat, and increasingly try to explain everything — local, national, international — in the same binary, ones-and-zeroes terms. It’s maddening…

    1. Robert Amundson

      The 24-hour news cycle, perpetuated by the “if it bleeds, it leads” ethos, amplifies sensationalism over substance, feeding into human biases wired to respond to threats. This narrative simplification breeds anxiety, particularly affecting our youth. Shifting this paradigm demands a monumental effort, often falling on the shoulders of the more silent or marginalized. It requires not just a change in media practices but a societal shift valuing nuanced storytelling over sensationalism.

      Elevating diverse voices, perspectives, and experiences is pivotal. In my role as a self-proclaimed “Grand Influencer,” I attempt to uphold these values in both thought and expression. The commitment involves a conscious effort to counteract binary narratives, amplify unheard stories, and reshape the narrative landscape with depth and empathy. My pen (and YouTube Channel) becomes a tool for influencing this shift, navigating the delicate balance between capturing attention and fostering comprehension. It’s a collective responsibility to uplift quieter voices and reshape the discourse, championing values that prioritize the richness of human experience over sensationalism.

      It is very difficult work – someone has to do it. Proverbs 4:7-9 (NIV): “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will give you a garland to grace your head and present you with a glorious crown.”

      This verse emphasizes the pursuit of wisdom and understanding, even at great cost, resonating with the challenging endeavor of reshaping media narratives. The commitment to counteract binary narratives, amplify unheard stories, and navigate the delicate balance between attention and comprehension aligns with the notion that wisdom and understanding bring honor and elevate one’s endeavors. In the face of difficult work, the pursuit of wisdom becomes a guiding light in influencing positive change.

      Maligayang Pasko = Merry Christmas in Tagalog.

  2. Barry

    As I said earlier, when the “nobody’ in question is the chairman of the Republican Party in the state of Florida and hitched to the belt loop of a Republican candidate for President, they aren’t nobodies.

    Mark Sanford getting mad at a coffee order gone wrong is a story about a nobody at this point and a story that doesn’t matter.

    A story about Jim Hodges yelling at a cashier at Piggly Wiggly and storming out is a story about a nobody at this point and a story that doesn’t matter.

    A story about a moral crusading couple who have couched their entire personas on how they are super Christians and are hitched to the governor of Florida who is running for President based on his moral crusade in Florida, who want to have sexual relations with another woman is not a local story that doesn’t matter.

    The Republican President and current leading candidate spent a good part of his 80 minute speech last night talking about his comments that were caught on tape where he bragged about grabbing women between their legs to great applause at the Young Republican club in New York.

    That’s where we are. Pretending we aren’t there isn’t reality.

      1. Robert Amundson

        The State published several of my “Letters to the Editor” and a couple of op-ed pieces (Brad, I was on Patton Adam’s Restructuring Government Commission; quite a collection of “influencers”). In the Rosewood neighborhood of Columbia, I stumbled upon ex-South Carolina Governor Mark Stanford at Great Clips. With John Edwards’ pricey haircuts in mind amid his presidential campaign, I approached Stanford mid-haircut. “May not always agree on policies, but at least you’re fiscally responsible,” I quipped. Little did I know, a month later, Stanford’s fiscal responsibility took a backseat to personal irresponsibility as he famously embarked on his “Appalachian Trail” adventure. Life’s twists, where budget haircuts and budget decisions don’t always align.

        The State publishing that story challenged my now ex-wife, as she worked for the Budget and Control Board. She and her co-workers all thought there would be retribution. RIP “Budget and Control Board.” You and others did “yeoman’s work” in exposing corruption within the SC Political System. IMHO, in many ways, ground zero for our Nation’s problems. So many are still fighting the Civil War, even in the North.

        I am offended by the drug addicted working (sometimes) poor flying the Confederate Battle Flag. Forrest Gump – “Stupid is as stupid does.” I have to try to stop trying to fix stupid.

        Nope – not yet.

      2. Barry

        that is the real world Brad. It’s not a made up story. These folks are trying very hard to control other people’s lives- when their own lives are a disaster. They are close sidekicks of someone running for President.

        The guy in Florida isn’t some volunteer Republican operative that also is a car salesman. He’s the Chairman of the Republican Party in Florida. It’s national news. I know it doesn’t matter to you personally. I understand that.

        His wife, a DeSantis endorsed elected school board member and leader in Moms for Liberty, a national Conservative organization that is involved in hundreds of local elections across the country including in South Carolina, participated in a sex act with another woman.

        “This is the topic of every water-cooler conversation and every lunchroom conversation,” state Rep. Spencer Roach, (R-North Fort Myers) told the New York Times Monday. “People are befuddled and bewildered and frustrated. These people for years have held themselves as paragons of Christian conservative values,”

        Dec 11, 2023

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well, I know the answer because we’ve exchanged email over the years. I’ll leave it to Barry to identify himself further if he will.

          And I believe he should…

        2. Barry

          I’m Barry.

          You don’t need additional information in order to discuss/debate topics online.

          You might want it, but don’t need it.

          I learned well over a decade ago there is a good reason for some people, maybe people that you don’t trust, to go without all the information they want.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            “I’m Just Barry.”

            That could be a hit song. A hit song I heard over the weekend, because the movie arrived on a service to which I subscribe. I don’t get why it’s a hit song…

    1. Doug Ross

      If the person’s name is not recognizable to 99.9% of Americans, they are obscure. Did you know their names before you read the story?

      1. Barry

        I had read about Christian Ziegler being a close advisor to DeSantis before this current mess. Didn’t know much about him but when I saw his picture, I knew him because before this current crises he appeared alongside of him numerous times at various political events.

        I knew more about Bridget Zieglar because she’s so involved in dozens of states pushing legislation, including South Carolina through her Mom’s For Liberty organization.

        They’ve also been popular in the Christian Political Right world for years now.

      1. Barry

        Well, I hope Brad doesn’t think that. I know some people try to dismiss this stuff as not important. When people are close to a Presidential candidate and they are working with organizations pushing legislation in other states, they aren’t “nobodies.” That’s simply not accurate.

        There was a day when some local nobodies had no power. But it’s not true now.

        #1 These folks aren’t obscure. Doug’s definition of obscure doesn’t hold up either. 99% of people on a random street in South Carolina wouldn’t recognize the name of Christopher Rufo. 50% + on this blog might not recognize the name. But they would recognize the term “Critical Race Theory” and many of them think it’s the biggest problem in schools in South Carolina in the last 100 years even though NONE of them could point to even one actual example of it in their local schools. Rufo is the right winger that is almost solely responsible for the “critical race theory” right wing anger and ginned up legislation attacking it as the biggest problem in the world. He did it to create an issue that wasn’t an issue and he’s admitted that in the past.

        #2 – Obscure people can have a lot of power in today’s world. They can have outsized power and authority in today’s society over other people’s lives. (Rufo- a true nobody – whose has his personally crafted anti critical race theory legislation that has now been passed by dozens of states across the country with more still considering it). Heck of a job for a “nobody”

        3) Calling it “obscure” or some such thing is a way to dismiss any opposing viewpoint. It reminds me of all the right wing columnists and Conservative members of Congress and right wing media folks who, after the election in 2020, told the American people that Trump’s election fraud claims and “stolen election” talk was just Trump blowing off steam and how Americans should just let him spout the non-sense without serious pushback because he’d get over it really soon. They were 100% wrong.

        1. Ken

          In American life, including American politics, “nobodies” can become very prominent somebodies in practically no time at all, and even wield significant influence and power. It’s best when they get rooted out before they can attain such heights. And that can only happen when attention is focused on their wayward ways. It’s obviously not always effective. The guy who formerly played US president on TV (and who may well land a contract for a re-make) is the example of when it fails, spectacularly.

  3. Doug Ross

    How many voters could name one of their senators? Both? Their own congressman? More than 5 supreme Court Justices?

    Some people think that because they are aware of (fed) some information that others are as well. Id put the number of people who could recognize a photo of Ron Desantis at fewer than 30%. Now guess how many of those would know the name of anyone who worked on his campaign? Maybe 0.1%

    It’s like the people who believe Fox News has some magical power over the Republican voters in the country when the actual number of viewers under the age of 55 is miniscule. Don’t believe me?
    “According to Nielsen live plus same day data for the month of November 2023, Fox News Channel averaged 1.725 million total viewers in primetime, 199,000 A25-54 viewers in primetime (No. 6 on cable), 1.18 million total day viewers and 143,000 A25-54 viewers in total day (No. 3 on cable).”

    200k people in a country with 160 million voters is meaningless. 7 times as many people in the same age group watch The Bachelor. Fox News is sports for old people.

    1. Barry

      How to Manufacture a Moral Panic Christopher Rufo helped incite an uproar over racism education with dramatic, dodgy reporting.

      “Last summer, Rufo seemed to come from nowhere, arriving on the scene after a national uprising against racism to lead the charge against the supposed excesses of anti-racism education, branding it all with a once-obscure academic term: critical race theory. Armed with a prolific Twitter account and the backing of the conservative Establishment, he brandished “scoops” about the widespread infiltration of the theory and eventually caught the attention of the Trump White House. In short order, he had transformed himself from a limited kind of Twitter star to bona fide conservative influencer. The proof lies offline in the new moral panic he helped instigate.”

      In less than 3 years, 28 states have passed legislation, largely designed as a reflection of Rufo’s personal opinion, against what they describe as “anti-whiteness.”


  4. Barry

    Very interesting “local” news story.

    Especially relevant since Trump was recently there in Iowa (along with other Republican politicians, promising more government handouts to farmers and rural communities.

    “As Verna continued driving, she passed solar panels, farm equipment, and ethanol plants, all made possible by some combination of government grants, tax deductions, and subsidies. Sometimes she heard complaints about low-income families supposedly abusing safety-net programs. Vera wished her neighbors acknowledged what the government did for them, too. She thought about the ambulance service that a government grant provided. Nobody seemed to be making that case to Iowa voters.

    “Don’t just point to programs helping other people and say cut those,” Verna wanted to tell conservative friends.

    A harvest of Memories

    A family reunion. The annual corn harvest. An antique wedding dress. In rural Iowa, an aging couple with diverging politics reflects on the past and what people owe one another in the present.


    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yep, a good local story — in Iowa.

      In Iowa, you have to kowtow to things like the Farm Bill and, of course, gasohol…

      It’s sort of like how in SC, the cradle of the Confederacy, a generation of GOP politicians danced around the Confederate flag when they came here. It was seen as essential if you wanted white votes, which of course is what Republicans have to have in their primaries.

      That’s why it’s a big deal that Nikki led on getting it down…

      Of course, right after she did, the party fell victim to another kind of insanity…

      Anyway, farming is like that in Iowa. But hey, at least we all need the farmers…

  5. Barry

    Good national and international article on MAGA Catholic priests and Cardinals and their fighting with the Pope and a thought-provoking closing question at the end of the article.

    I’m not remotely Catholic, but this was interesting.

    “Opposition to Francis is also tied to secular politics. Burke described himself as “very happy” with the election of President Donald Trump and has joined other US bishops in calling for President Joe Biden, a Catholic, to be refused communion for his support for abortion laws.

    In 2004, Burke, then a bishop, announced he would not give communion to presidential candidate John Kerry for similar reasons. While Francis has spoken out strongly against abortion, he does not support refusing Biden communion. Strickland has described the US president as “evil” and sent a video message to a rally seeking to overturn the 2020 election result. The politicized church rhetoric is likely to heat up as the US heads into an election year.

    “MAGA (Make America Great Again) politics and MAGA Catholics overlap in many ways, especially in their culture war approach to everything”


    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      “Opposition to Francis is also tied to secular politics.”

      I would say it’s almost entirely tied to secular politics, except that there is a large contingent of old school Catholics who still have huge objections to Vatican 2.

      Of course, cause and effect are entangled in weird ways. But yes, people’s secular political tendencies too often shape and define their religious tendencies….

  6. Barry

    By the way – I know the economy is supposed to be awful thanks to Joe Biden but I was in NYC in the last week as my wife and I and some family members went up and the place was absolutely jam packed.

    Flights were full. Talking to a few people at the airport, they experienced the same thing coming from Colorado and California. The train heading into the city was packed- standing room only around 11am. Our hotel was sold out – at least that’s what the desk clerk told me at check in. She said most of December was sold out- even weeknights.

    We caught a show. It was sold out. Local reporting was that show attendance is at an all-time high in 2023. I have confirmed that by looking up an industry report. The report also said it had been record attendance for younger patrons – a good sign for the industry. (I have to say my wife and I witnessed the same thing at our show- lots of younger 20 something couples, and a lot of older teens in the theater).

    After the show, I asked what turned out to be the owner one of these late night local sandwich shops how things were business wise and he said told me what I’ve heard here in my local area- business is booming, but he still has issues with getting enough workers, but it had been a great year and December apparently had been really strong. If the way too many people in the diner at 11pm at night was any indication, he’s doing darn well.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Tbe economy’s doing great.

      People who don’t understand economics don’t think so.

      Most people don’t understand economics.

      Hence the problem…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        And please don’t make me explain that. You know how I hate writing about numbers, especially when they refer to money…

        Let this suffice…

        Here are some recent examples of stories examining the gap between reality and perception:

        The problem (or at least a big part of the problem) appears to be that people don’t think inflation is being tamed unless prices — overall, in the aggregate — go back down. Which is called deflation. Which is what we had during the Great Depression. Which was not a good thing…

        1. Doug Ross

          If wages don’t keep up with inflation, that’s a problem. I know you have trouble with numbers but did your salary increase at the same rate as inflation over the past two years?

      2. Doug Ross

        Credit card debt is at an all time high.

        Some people are running their lives like the government. Borrow, borrow, borrow.

    2. Ken

      And yet I get the impression that there are some voters out there, and not a few of them, who would sell off democracy for a slightly less expensive Big Mac.

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