CBS Sunday Morning recently aired a story about Mount Airy, North Carolina, the inspiration for Mayberry of “Andy Griffith Show” fame. Ted Koppel interviewed the townsfolk, who reflected on Mount Airy’s sixty-year run as America’s idyllic depiction of life in the slow lane.
During the Griffith show’s original run (1960 to 1968), Americans faced the Cold War, racial strife, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam war, protests, riots, assassinations, and a widening “generation gap” pitting hippies against squares.
But in Mayberry, never was heard a discouraging word. Every day was a slow news day in Mayberry, except maybe when that scoundrel Ernest T. Bass was throwing rocks through windows.
Of course, the Griffith show is still on TV every single day. But whatever happened to the slow news day? Speaking as a lifelong news guy, what I’m about to say might put me out of business, but I’ll take that chance. I could use a few slow news days.
Even in the tumultuous 1960s, the revered news anchor Walter Cronkite would take the entire month of August, and then some, to go sailing. Why? August was like a summer holiday for news. Congress was in recess, and the president would typically disappear for a few weeks to rest at the Camp David retreat in Maryland, or his own hometown. The evening newscasts filled time with water-skiing squirrels.
Compare that serenity with August and September of 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic that had seemed to be in our rear-view mirror came roaring back with vengeance in the form of a deadly variant.
Confusion reigned as we debated over vaccines for kids, booster shots for adults, short-staffed hospitals, a shortage of beds, and breakthrough cases. A new study would come out on Tuesday, followed by a conflicting study on Wednesday.
This triggered a fresh wave of school board battles over whether students should attend in-person or virtual school, masked or unmasked. Oh, for the days when the hottest topic among parents was having to buy polo shirts to keep their kids out of dress code jail.
The Afghan government collapsed, resulting in violence and chaos. Our generals are still second-guessing our actions to this day.
Every jobs report confirmed what we already knew: 9 million people were losing unemployment benefits, yet we still couldn’t get a Hardee’s biscuit on Sunday morning because no one wanted to work.
Also in Washington, the term “Congressional action” proved to be more of an oxymoron than ever. Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree on vaccine mandates, infrastructure funding, or whether a hot dog is a sandwich (of course it is, right?)
A hurricane named Ida stormed through the Gulf states, and made her way up the east coast, leaving damage and debris along a nine-state, 1500 mile path that left millions without electricity. For days on end, many others dealt with flooding.
Also in September, some citizens in California tried (and failed) to recall their governor, while the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo was forced out of office over a barrage of sexual harassment allegations.
Texas passed new voting laws and a controversial abortion ban, and gun violence took a shocking number of lives in cities from Chicago to Chattanooga.
On top of all this, even our safe haven of TV game shows was in a ruckus. The studio that produces “Jeopardy” took nine months to name a replacement for the late Alex Trebek, and fumbled the ball in spectacular fashion. Our nation can’t even handle a board game without spilling the pieces into a garbage disposal.
It has gotten to the point where I’m afraid to turn on “The Today Show” at 7 a.m. each day. What new crisis will Savannah and Hoda throw at us this time? We haven’t cleaned up the other ones yet!
I think back to hundreds, even thousands of days in my career, when I would loudly proclaim to my newsroom colleagues, “Is this all we have today? You’re telling me there’s nothing going on that’s more interesting than this?” They would often reply, “We feel the same way. We have looked everywhere for news, but there just isn’t much going on, locally or nationally.”
Honestly, there would be days we would leave our morning planning session, in which assignments are given to reporters, by saying, “Surely something will happen that will be better than what we have on the plate right now.” Some days, things happened, but most days they didn’t.
Certainly, we weren’t wishing for tragedy or loss of life. Just something interesting. Maybe the governor would swoop into town and announce that a new manufacturer was coming in, with the promise of a thousand jobs.
Slow news days are a journalist’s nightmare. But compared to what we’ve had lately, I’d take a few.