News Junkie Smackdown

Is the Web Waiting for the Newspapers To Report the News?
Policy made plain.
July 22 2009 3:08 PM

News Junkie Smackdown

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Oops. I was listening to NPR this morning and feeling that today's top stories are very much like yesterday's: Polls show public support for Obama is softening, and health care reform skepticism is setting in. Then Steve Roberts, hosting a discussion with reporters about health care reform, started the show by saying, "The New York Times today says health care reform is Obama's defining moment." So now I know—that's the top story of the day.

Without the newspapers, it's hard to find a pure news source (as opposed to commentary derived from newspaper reporting). Bloomberg agrees that health care, and the difficulties the reservations of both Republicans and conservative Democrats present to passing a bill by August, is the top political story.

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CNN is shockingly useless—its lead stories are mostly freakish human interest: "555-pound teen lands mom in jail." But there seems not to be much actual news; we're mostly waiting for something to happen (health care) or not to happen (health care). Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is in the United States, but not much is made of it anywhere I looked (NPR, Bloomberg, CNN). Both NPR and Bloomberg, in response to the Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrest story, had stories about black men and unprovoked arrests (and I discovered the Gates incident actually happened last week).

Then there's a story I bet didn't reach the papers—both Politico and the Atlantic report on the "birther" movement (a phrase I'd never heard before). These are the people who believe President Obama's birth certificate is fake, he was actually born in Kenya, and is therefore president illegally. I didn't read far enough into these stories to see whether the birthers also think the stories about the 40th anniversary of the moon landing are marking a hoax.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column.