“A nation in mourning”?
I learned of Senator Kennedy’s death when I awoke at around 2:30 in the morning, flipped on my clock-radio, and heard Bob Schieffer giving a very graceful, carefully crafted summary of the Senator’s life. It had obviously been prepared well in advance and had been held ready for the moment, a practice as common as the obituaries of famous people written in advance and kept in ready at newspapers. When I got up around 7:00, I found the networks in full mourning-mode, with the major anchors on hand and, again, well-prepared biographical summaries. From then on, it was pretty much all-Teddy all the time. When I got back to D.C., I read a story in one paper that referred to “a nation in mourning.” I believe that the funeral was covered live today by some of the networks.
It all got me thinking about how “events” are shaped and even created by the media. Sen. Kennedy’s sister died two weeks or so before he did, and her death was noted in the media and in the press, but it didn’t take up a whole half-hour of the evening national news. Suppose the media and the press had treated the Senator’s death the same way that they treated Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s death. Would we still be able to speak about “a nation in mourning”? Senator Bird of West Virginia is well up there in years and has been ill of late. At his death does anyone expect from the press and the media anything like the reaction to the death of Sen. Kennedy? Will the nation be in mourning? Or does it take the media to plunge the nation into grief?
By coincidence last evening I came upon the hilarious review of a book on Ronald and Nancy Reagan that Gore Vidal published twenty-five years ago in the New York Review of Books. He makes a passing reference there to “the thundering sentimental scores” that Max Steiner composed to accompany Bette Davis’s acting in various Hollywood dramas to make sure that the audience wept at the appropriate moments. Are the media our Max Steiner?