Why you want to read The President is Missing:
Participation in our democracy seems to be driven by the instant-gratification worlds of Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, and the twenty-four-hour news cycle. We’re using modern technology to revert to primitive kinds of human relations. The media knows what sells—conflict and division. It’s also quick and easy. All too often anger works better than answers; resentment better than reason; emotion trumps evidence. A sanctimonious, sneering one-liner, no matter how bogus, is seen as straight talk, while a calm, well-argued response is seen as canned and phony. It reminds me of the old political joke: Why do you take such an instant dislike to people? It saves a lot of time.
What happened to factual, down-the-middle reporting? That’s hard to even define anymore, as the lines between fact and fiction, between truth and lies, gets murkier every day.
We can’t survive without a free press, dedicated to preserving that fine line and secure enough to follow the facts where they lead. But the current environment imposes serious pressures on our journalists, at least those who cover politics, to do just the reverse—to exercise their own power and to, in the words of one wise columnist, “abnormalize” all politicians, even honest, able ones, often because of relatively insignificant issues.
Scholars call this a false equivalency. It means that when you find a mountain to expose in one person or party, you have to pick a molehill on the other side and make it into a mountain to avoid being accused of bias. The built-up molehills also have large benefits: increased coverage on the evening news, millions of retweets, and more talk-show fodder. When the mountains and molehills all looks the same, campaigns and governments devote too little time and energy debating the issues that matter most to our people. Even when we try to do that, we’re often drowned out by the passion of the day.
There’s a real cost to this. It breeds more frustration, polarization, paralysis, bad decisions, and missed opportunities. But with no incentive to actually accomplish something, more and more politicians just go with the flow, fanning the flames of anger and resentment, when they should be acting as the fire brigade. Everybody knows it’s wrong, but the immediate rewards are so great we stagger on, just assuming that our Constitution, our public institutions, and the rule of law can endure each new assault without doing permanent damage to our freedoms and way of life.
I’d say this novel is a must read.
From Chapter 8 The President is Missing (Bill Clinton and James Patterson) © Little, Brown and Company