I stared at the five-inch scar on the back of my 84-year-old mother’s head each time she turned to talk to my dad. She was in pretty good spirits now even though she had fallen down a flight of basement stairs.
Eight days ago I got the news early as I boarded a 7 a.m. flight for a week-long trip to Los Angeles. Apparently at 3:30 a.m. that morning she decided she needed to go down to the basement. The dementia had been getting worse.
My sister, who had luckily been staying with my parents that night, assured me that mom was fine, just shaken. So I continued on my trip, checking my phone at every break for updates until I could return home to New York and then up to New Hampshire to see them.
Just moments before I arrived to the hospital they removed the 17 staples from her head.
Staples? I guess they’re easier than stitches and were put there during her Emergency Room stay. And now, poking out of the shaven portion of her wispy grey-and-brown dyed hair was this startling reminder of change.
Change is like an avalanche; you can’t run from it. And trying to duck and cover just makes you look silly and out of touch. Fighting it is even worse. And even though I dye my hair, I draw the line at wearing the same clothes I wore in high school (and my old mullet is definitely out of the question!).
Music changes. Art changes. Fashion, diets, architecture, language, even our coastlines change.
Why can’t the media?
Sitting for hours on end in a hospital is exhausting and boring. She wasn’t in much of a mood for conversation and with her dementia, what little chatting we might do she wouldn’t remember later. So we mostly watched TV in silence.
Some news agencies with more of a desire to “get the scoop” than get it right decided that it was OK to report that Petty was dead, even though he was only close. Not dead, but close enough, right? It was for these news organizations.
So while she was fed institutional food, we were fed institutional media: The News. I suppose if I was being filmed it would have shown my head shaking back and forth in a “really?” kind of state. I had mostly stopped watching the news years ago because all it seemed to dish out was catastrophe and fear.
The fact that the news seems to be a default channel on every TV I saw in the hospital gives you the idea of how numb we’ve become to this fact.
And I was thinking of a study I read where patients healed much faster when they watched comedies when I was pulled out of my thought by (of course) a startling “breaking” story:
One of my musical heroes had just passed peacefully.
Well, sort of.
Tom Petty died. Except it wasn’t when we were told he was dead.
You see, some news agencies with more of a desire to “get the scoop” than get it right decided that it was OK to report that Petty was dead, even though he was only close. Not dead, but close enough, right? It was for these news organizations.
The first one to falsely report it was CBS. CBS? They took the lead from that stalwart of newsworthiness and decency: TMZ. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) CBS apparently had “a source” at the LAPD.
Wait. No one checked with the family? No one checked with an actual source?
It happened with the horrific Sandy Hook shooting where CNN released the name of the shooter’s brother as the shooter. Close, but not right. Having your brother commit such a crime is enough for any one person to deal with without having one of the biggest news outlets on the planet naming you incorrectly as the killer.
Again, no one checked with an actual source?
Nope. There was too much at stake: sensationalism. A big story is sensational. Being first is sensational. Being first breaking a big story is the Holy Grail of sensationalism.
And unfortunately we actually like it. I’ve written about it before—how we’re wired to be glued to that wreck on the side of the road. And our electronic devices—our news sources—only make it worse by being with us 24/7/365. It’s imperative (or so they think) that these news outlets be the source that can be cited by others.
But what happens is the poor reporting of the story then becomes the news, not the story itself. Tom Petty’s passing shifted from being about the great contributions he made musically to what jerks “journalists” are.
The troubling part is that these agencies have a responsibility to be correct over being first. And to just report what they find, not give their opinion on it. I can make up my own mind, thank you.
I see it happen to my and other religions not only in news but in other media as well. “Documentaries” not fit to be screened in countries that actually demand fact-checking are released in the U.S. interviewing the same handful of eager-for-the-spotlight “whistle-blowers” who don’t seem to be able to get any attention unless they feed the insatiable sensationalism machine. It doesn’t matter if it’s not true.
To these news outlets I quote Al Pacino in The Godfather: “You’re nothing to me now.”
But maybe it’s us that need to change—need to change our thirst for sensationalism. That way there wouldn’t be a demand for rash decisions on the parts of those who we count on to accurately inform us. I’m willing to take some of the blame if that will help.
And while my mom’s head heals and her hair grows back, my wish is that those who consider themselves “news” sources can also change for the better and back to a time when they had to check facts and reported only what actually happened. Then, maybe, I’d be interested in tuning in again.
In the meantime don’t worry. I couldn’t grow a mullet now if I wanted to.
Although THAT would be sensational.