I wrote this piece based on my knowledge of mainstream reporters and their work, their lives, their forgotten hopes, their realizations (in some cases) that they’re trapped in a system.
Most of them don’t want to get out. They become creatures of the night they once wanted to illuminate.
You’re a mainstream reporter striving to stay afloat. The word has drifted down from the top that this is the season for inflicting wounds on Donald Trump, no matter what, no matter what happened or didn’t happen on a rumpled bed in a hotel room in Moscow, no matter what Putin did or didn’t do to influence the election, no matter who leaked the DNC emails to WikiLeaks, no matter what Michael Flynn said or didn’t say to a Russian on the phone, no matter who or what James Comey is fronting for; every real or possible or non-existent detail needs to be blown up into a gigantic scandal of the moment, this president has to go, and your assignment is to keep cutting him, it’s beyond the point where anybody in your business cares who he is and what he’s done and what he’s doing, so pump up the hysteria, shove in the blade wherever you can, THIS is how your success will be measured, you want a light to shine on you, so attack, attack without let-up, don’t think, don’t think about what’s going on here, the important thing is:
The news business is: careers.
Having a career is life. Losing it is death.
Your career is on the line.
It doesn’t matter what you’ve done over the years, what you’ve written, what you’ve said, this is the big one.
You can’t lose your career.
You know what losing it means.
It means the end.
Losing your career is hanging around a bar until closing time and silently cursing the boss and the other reporters who are climbing faster up the ladder, it’s worrying about where the next story is coming from and how it can zing the editor’s brain so he grunts with satisfaction like an ape on a little throne, it’s all the while knowing that NO ONE at the newspaper or the network can put out a piece that will cause serious ripples in the behind-the-curtain power structure, and you know that because in the past, in what was supposed to be your finest hour, you carefully peeled just one glove from the body of a scandal that should have been stripped entirely naked for the public to see and then you were stopped; suddenly, for you, losing a career is desperately clinging to the biased political stance of the news division, clinging to it as if it were a message from God, it’s taking a piece of info that smells like a rotten slug from an anonymous source and turning it into caviar because it decorates a story that has no foundation whatsoever, it’s pruriently hinting in a story that the enemy, as defined by the editorial staff and the publisher and the corporation that owns the soul of the publisher, is a despicable traitor who should be carted off in the middle of the night and dumped on a boat to the 10th circle of Hell, it’s being wired into who at the news division is moving up and who is moving down, who is the teacher’s pet and who is the bad boy at the back of the room, it’s scouting out jobs that are coming up at rival networks, it’s knowing when dreaded staff layoffs are emerging over the horizon and how flimsy the severance packages will be, it’s grinding on preposterous assignments that have no function other than filling space, it’s pretending one political party or another will stave off the end of civilization, it’s your paycheck that handles the mortgage and the kid’s college fund although how does the kid get into college when he can’t even write a coherent paragraph unless he plagiarizes it from Wikipedia, it’s finally getting your teeth into a good story only to be told there’ll be no follow-up and you know exactly why because you know which person or corporation or advertiser would be rammed into handcuffs if you dug down a foot deeper, it’s forgetting you were once smart and sharp and alert and ready to roll as a member of the fourth estate on a mission to protect the public from the raging excesses of government, it’s sitting for a half-hour with a Congressman and listening to him lie so extensively you can’t believe he knows he’s lying anymore because if he did know, how could he consciously keep up the charade every waking moment, it’s looking at THE elite anchor of your network and knowing he’s a complete cartoon of an ego on parade, it’s wondering how the public even in the depths of its trance can believe what is coming out of the mouth of that ego, it’s lying in bed at night not recalling whether you took a sleeping pill, it’s tearing the cap off a bottle of antidepressant with shaking fingers after coming out of the drug store where you filled the prescription and swallowing a pill and three hours later sitting in your work-cubbyhole thinking with great and rising surety that you want to burn down the newsroom, it’s standing in the kitchen of your silent apartment remembering you wrote a paper in college about the 1776 revolution although you can’t bring back one word of it now, it’s rubbing elbows with celebrities at a cocktail party on the Upper East Side and sensing a few B-listers are giving you a quick once-over to gauge whether you can do them any good and deciding you can’t, it’s having a dream you’re drowning in your bathtub and your editor is standing above you grinning with pistols in his hands, it’s sitting in the antiseptic office of a therapist who is telling you that getting a dog as a friend will rescue your state of mind, it’s standing in the newsroom on election night watching so-called analysts on big screens talking numbers and trends and possible outcomes and you’re thinking you’re supposed to be on the screen yourself but it hasn’t worked out that way, it’s wondering whether selling Porches or hawking real estate would be a better option at this point, it’s wondering by what method you would commit the oh so grand gesture of suicide, because it should be grand, it should have some significance in the scheme of things, it can’t be a mere disappearance, can it, there would at least be a need for some sort of plan, would it be gun or slit wrist or rope or leap—and then you laugh—AND WHY DOES IT SOUND LIKE MUSIC—and then, THEN you recall that in your desk drawer there is a fat folder full of documents proving a major prime-cut number one advertiser for your newspaper, a major advertiser and a colossus apparently beyond the reach of any president with its far-flung global interests in brain-crippling pharmaceuticals and carcinogenic pesticides and real estate and banking is also—and how perfect is THIS—is also a giant HOG-RAISING FACTORY (millions and millions of oinking pigs) that has polluted the soil of half a southern state with hundreds of toxic chemicals and untold numbers and types of germs and the corporation has bribed its way into permission to create gigantic hog-feces lagoons that sit out in the sunlight year after year festering and percolating and seeping down into the groundwater and poisoning every form of life, and you sit there and nod to yourself and open the drawer and take out that fat folder of documents and you find a piece of blank paper and without thinking you write a brief note of resignation to your ape editor and you stand up and walk out of the newsroom carrying the folder and you hit the night street and walk along with the surging crowds and you feel your blood coursing through your veins and you realize there are a few tears on your cheeks and you grin a savage grin and head home to write the story that will rip that hog-colossus a deep wound and you look up at the moon and a shiver goes through your body, it’s almost midnight but it’s not your midnight, all of a sudden a cockeyed sun is coming up for you between big buildings and through some strange unfathomable equation you’re hitting your stride because you just lost your career and a new and unnameable SPACE is swimming into view, and you’re already writing the first paragraph of the REAL story and THIS is the drama you were imagining so long ago, so long ago when you believed in working a real beat as a real newsman…
IS THAT ALL A FANTASY, MR. NEWSMAN?
YOUR CHAPTER ONE.
OR YOUR END.
It’s life or death in the news business.