Grassley Mowed Down

March 17, 2009

All right, so Charles Grassley is not from Minnesota, but he is from our neighbor to our south, and he’s a lawmaker who’s in the media spotlight today.  So I’m bending the Media Law Minnesota rules just a touch to blog on this week’s uproar over the Iowan’s comment that AIG executives might want to consider suicide.

If you haven’t heard, this is what the senator said on the air at WMT Radio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa:

The first thing that would make me feel a little bit better towards them if they’d follow the Japanese model and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say I’m sorry, and then either do one of two things — resign, or go commit suicide.

(Real audio here.)

Look, Chuck Grassley is not a dumb guy, but that was really, really dumb.

As a cub newspaper reporter in Iowa, I covered the good senator many times and was among the Iowa reporters who used to occassionally tape radio interviews with him.  Usually the interviews took place by phone.  I’d be in Iowa, and Grassley in Washington.  He was smart enough to ask whether any news had happened during the time he was in a committee meeting or on the Senate floor, just to make sure we reporters with access to the newswires would not ambush him with a question and make him sound dumb on the air.

This week, of course, Grassley sounded dumb all by himself, and it was his own fault.  But he’s loved in Iowa, and he’ll survive.  And, to be honest, he probably should.

But will we survive?  Will we news consumers survive the furor and the flaps over these quick-hit, gotcha sound bytes that permeate today’s news?  I have my fears.

In the grand scheme of things, Grassley’s comment was a non-event.  These are serious times, and we as news consumers are getting seriously distracted by stuff like this that succeeds only in diverting our collective attention away from the complicated issues that cannot and should not be captured in sound bytes.

Meanwhile, yet another newspaper bit the dust today — this one in Seattle.  Some folks say it’s about time.  But many of us are hungering for places where we can get our daily fix of stuff that matters.  With stories like the Grassley flap filling the blogs and airwaves, it’s getting harder and harder.

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