"Truth is the most valuable thing we have," Mark Twain wrote. "Let us economize it." In that spirit, today's journalists tend to be frugal.
Since most news professionals want to be ahead of the curve without seeming out of step, it's not too soon to put together a boilerplate story about major events of 1998. The details can be adjusted later. So, here goes:
At home and abroad, notable reforms continued to take hold-improving prospects of long-term stability and economic growth.
"The fundamentals of the American economy are still strong," said a senior White House official as the year drew to a close. "Unemployment is low. We've created a smaller and more efficient government by streamlining federal agencies. And the outlook for investors has never been brighter."
On the political front, fund-raising efforts intensified for a number of presidential hopefuls, who have already become familiar faces in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, the progress of welfare reform pleased most commentators. Dumping people off welfare rolls proved to be a big morale boost for pundits in 1998.
Overseas, in many developing nations, global lending institutions maintained firm pressure on government officials and business leaders. Although a crisis atmosphere roiled financial markets at times, analysts remained generally optimistic.
Outdated notions of civic participation, experts say, are gradually giving way to more realism. Citizens can vote, and that is as it should be. But their clout is limited. These days, large investors can impose responsibility on governments-in Seoul, Tokyo or Washington-more directly and quickly.
Phrases like "fiscal discipline" and "economic reforms" convey the emerging post-democratic imperatives. Around the world, most educated people have realized that the system usually works-and when it doesn't, perhaps that's of secondary concern. After all, if you and your loved ones aren't among the homeless or malnourished, how much should you actually care?
Time magazine's last edition of 1998 reflected the rising trends. Twelve months earlier, the news weekly's "Man of the Year" had been microchip mogul Andrew Grove, "whose unique entrepreneurial spirit has built Intel into the fastest-growing company in the world's fastest-growing industry." In late December 1998, the newsmagazine dispensed with its "Man of the Year" award and conferred a special "Mammal of the Year" plaudit on the Golden Calf.
Nationally, the issue of affirmative action became a bit less divisive. Most members of Congress went along with a bipartisan measure requiring that one black person be admitted to the freshman class of every law school in the country. Those on Capitol Hill who voted against the compromise were stigmatized as either extreme right-wingers or Old Democrats.
In another step toward reform, widely hailed by mass media, the Central Intelligence Agency announced that it was establishing a new department -the Division of Self-Exoneration-to swiftly investigate charges of CIA wrongdoing.
The alteration of an influential group's name in 1998 also seemed to reflect the shifting tenor of the political times: After a decade of praising "the middle class" and helping big corporate donors, the centrist Democratic Leadership Council formally changed its name to the Democratic Party.
Many Americans-or at least the more important ones-seem quite satisfied with their circumstances. They show numerous signs of prosperity and express ample enthusiasm for stimulating the economy with their own purchases. Overall, while the persistence of social injustices and inequities may bother them a little, polls indicate that Americans are reasonably content.
End of story.
A postscript: According to unspoken conventional wisdom, if truthfulness is precious, then journalists-and the rest of us-are better off not squandering it all in one place.
"Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul," Mark Twain commented. But such loyalty has paid a lot of mortgages. And it remains widespread.
Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His most recent books are Wizards of Media Oz, co-authored with Jeff Cohen, and The Trouble With Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh.
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