Natalee is dead, and I don’t care

Newspapers are dying the nation over, faster in Detroit than in most places. The Detroit papers, which have less than half the combined circulation they did a few years ago, are still losing a thousand subscribers a month.

Serious network news programs are continuing to lose viewers too. That's sad, up to a point. But increasingly, there is less and less reason to care. Or to pay much attention to most of the mainstream news media, other than to a few quality, if flawed, products like The New York Times.

Why? Here's an example of why. Last month, the Michigan Senate rammed through a bill about genetically modified crops. Not to allow them, but to prevent any local government from outlawing them, anywhere in the state.

This week, the House will vote on it, and will almost certainly pass it too. Governor Jennifer Granholm will then probably sign it, because she doesn't want to anger the big farmers, especially not when she is running for re-election.

After that, it will be illegal for anyplace — a county, a township, a town — to decide that no, they don't want any genetically modified crops planted there. What if some organic farmers want to prevent "seed drift" and worry that the Frankenfood seeds will blow over and contaminate their fields?

Tough titty, Mr. Green Jeans. Corporate America has its needs. Now, you may be able to make a case for this bill, and as far as I know, nobody has gotten cancer from genetically modified soybeans. Yet.

But the point is that there has been essentially no discussion and no debate about this in the mainstream media. Instead, day after day on television, we get rehashed garbage about the blond teenager from Alabama who went to Aruba a year ago to drink and party, and disappeared. Who gives a goddamn?

Nobody, at this point, other than her family and millions of twits whose minds have been filled with meaningless trivia about the case by creatures like the bulldog-faced Nancy Grace, arguably the nastiest and most intellectually repulsive creature on TV. Meanwhile, the United States' economy is getting into a deeper and deeper hole, we are mired in a hopeless war, and there is a drumbeat aimed at taking us into a further war of some kind with Iran.

Newspapers haven't done as much with the Natalee Holloway case, presumably because it is harder for them to show endless beach vistas. Day after day, however, there are endless pages full of pap devoted to the breeding of the religious nut twits Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. On one recent day when a number of Americans and dozens of Iraqis were slaughtered, there was far more space in Detroit's papers given to the weighty issue of whether or not Katie would make any noise when the baby came out of her.

This is how mentally retarded children think, and we are being given media designed to make us all drooling idiots. There is less of this in the quality papers, which most Americans never see, though even those papers are full of minor errors and serious, if unintended distortions, like the general impression that Iraq is the center of the universe. The rest of the media give you garbage to add to the garbage you have in your heads already. And even the best of the media miss the boat much of the time. I am writing this from Boston, where I have gone to a conference about Russia, a country that never makes it into the news these days, and probably won't unless Nancy Grace decides there is some evidence that Natalee was taken there.

Recently I had to look at some back issues of the Michigan Daily, the University of Michigan's student newspaper, from 1959 to 1961. What was horrifying was that the quality of the coverage was considerably superior to what either Detroit newspaper is doing today. There were an immense number of stories about foreign relations and our place in the world.

And most of the attention was given to the Soviet Union, which was dominated by Russia. Our competition with the state now known as Russia — the so-called Cold War — utterly dominated the nation's media from 1945 to 1991.

Then, the Soviet Union collapsed. A bunch of little nations, many with names ending in "stan," were spun off, and Russia gave up communism. We smiled, congratulated ourselves heartily for winning the Cold War, and forgot all about the "FSU" or, former Soviet Union, in about five minutes.

Today, Russia remains a vastly important country — one with far more energy reserves than any other nation in the world, even Saudi Arabia. Richard Matzke, a former vice-president of ChevronTexaco, told me that Russia would be the most important country when it came to energy of nearly all types as far into the future as the eye could see.

Russia today also has thousands of nuclear weapons — still — and is wrestling with democracy, trying to become a democratic county against great odds. It is a story that dwarfs that in Iraq, at every level. The main question is whether democracy can work in a nation that never had it before, or whether it will return permanently to an elected dictatorship, which now seems likely.

We aren't doing much to help. Evgeny Umerenkov, a Russian journalist who covers his country, told me that relations between our nations is deteriorating badly, mostly because of our old habit of automatically taking the side of any country that has a disagreement with them.

Naturally, we were disappointed they didn't support our folly in Iraq. President Bush, meanwhile, thinks everything is peachy because he has a good "personal relationship" with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, based on the fact that both men are Christians, or pretend to be.

Yet we aren't lifting a finger to help, or build closer ties and better relations with Russia, which is far more important to our future and the world's than Iraq. That's the country we should be worrying about building democracy in. That's the country whose infrastructure we should be worrying about; the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl was happening 20 years ago today, by the way.

They may not have had enough money to properly maintain the rest of their aging nuke plants in the turmoil since then.

Nor, in turn, is Russia likely in turn to do anything to restrain their traditional ally, Iran, whose fanatic leader is talking about 40,000 suicide bombers and nuclear weapons. We can't really do anything about that, by the way; our army is pretty much tied down in our unwinnable war in Iraq.

Not to worry, though; there will be new pictures of TomKitten on the Internet soon, and we need to update our profiles on MySpace. If you are a lot younger than I am, my sympathies.


Worth making time for: Speaking of communism, Detroit once had a colorful, fascinating and significant radical past, and this weekend two utterly excellent movies about it will be showing at the Insight Screening Room, 24300 Southfield Rd., Southfield, on the third floor. They are Professional Revolutionary: The Life of Saul Wellman and, First Amendment on Trial: The Case of the Detroit Six

I have seen them, and you ought to too, especially since the movie in which Katie Holmes plays Natalee Holloway isn't in production yet.

There are numerous showtimes, and it will cost you ten bucks, but it will be well worth it. You can ferret out more information at

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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