Pepto-Bismol, Resurrecting Journalism, and Idol Reporting

Kicking off the countdown to John Roberts’ confirmation hearings, the Economist this week examines “the court’s delicate balance” on church-state issues, noting that “secularists fear that Mr. Roberts may upset it” while “many evangelicals are praying that he will.” Looking forward in more ways than one, the magazine concludes that if Roberts “rules too radically, that could drive voters to choose a Democratic president in 2008 … there are checks and balances to save America from theocracy.”

Kurt Anderson, writing in this week’s New York, is “looking forward to [Roberts’] confirmation hearings with a kind of back-to-school anticipation.” Anderson anticipates, specifically, a “serious, civil, constructive conversation about the society and government we want for ourselves” — a welcome break, he muses, from “the feral heat” of the presidential campaign which “particularly in the age of blogs and 24/7 cable news … seem[ed] too anything-goes, too democratic — too vulnerable to the likes of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — to produce much in the way of useful debate.” (Not that print reporters and columnists had anything to do with that). Anderson locates what he calls “the single strangest reported fact about Roberts” (via the Harvard Crimson): that Roberts was a “great consumer of Pepto-Bismol [as a Harvard undergrad] and always had a bottle or two on hand.”

In hopes of finding out what the college kids have on hand these days, we turn to Current magazine, “the nation’s premiere student-run magazine.” The current issue of this Newsweek-affiliated publication boasts a “special guide to a pimped-out dorm” (apparently “lounging on unmade beds is passe”) and a look at “The State of the Student Union” (even in the “hook-up culture,” some undergrads get hitched). But what caught our eye was Michael Giardina’s bit of journo-scolding, titled, “Enough Fluff News Buffs.” It has come to Giardina’s attention that “the news is officially broken,” as the media feels compelled to “buffer the American public with cute stories and shiny objects.” Witness the New York Times’ use of “sluff” on A1 — Giardina’s neologism for a combination of “the serious and the fluff” — such as a recent front-page graphic depicting US soldiers eating breakfast prepared by an Iraqi family. “Isn’t that sweet?” Giarndina writes, with a tinge of undergraduate sarcasm, “I also like to eat breakfast! I can’t believe foreigners need sustenance too! I feel so connected to our war zone allies.” Giardina concludes, with a hint of collegiate earnestness, that the “only way [to] salvage our media” is for journalists to “report the positive news story, [to] actively search out the people making this word a better place,” because “showing the public concrete escape routes for their apathy will resurrect journalism.”

Speaking of resurrection, this week’s Time reports on “Christian yoga,” a “fast-growing movement that seeks to retool the 5,000-year-old practice of yoga to fit Christ’s teachings” such as by renaming the “sun salutation, a series of poses honoring the Hindu sun god … the ‘Son’ salutation.” As with most trend stories, the actual size of this “movement,” this “boom,” is glossed over (there are “hundreds” of Christian yoga classes in the U.S., we’re told), but we get plenty of detailed anecdotes.

Also in this week’s Time is a brief piece on the Iraqi version of “American Idol.” We learn that “50 percent of Iraqi TV viewers” tune in (no details on what that number actually looks like) and that the Iraqi show, too, has a sharp-tongued judge who recently had this to say about one tone-deaf contestant’s song about a hummingbird: “Slaughtered bird is masculine. You kept saying it is feminine.”

Does this qualify as reporting “good news” from Iraq?

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.