When President Kennedy was assassinated, most of the first people to learn about it were housewives watching soap operas.
There were no all-news channels in those days. When the soaps were interrupted by the bulletins from Dallas, the women called their husbands, and the news fanned out from there.
The fact is, news is actually a lot like soap operas. Most of the time, you can miss a day or two and not miss very much.
However, you usually have to watch for years before you get everything. Before you really know all the characters, and all the history behind them, all the nuance and detail.
Cataclysmic events sometimes occur in soap operas. Sometimes their full meaning is immediately apparent. Sometimes it takes years for their impact to unfold. That’s exactly how news is.
For the last hour, we’ve been discussing what happened this year. But we really don’t know everything yet. And we certainly don’t know its significance. On July 4, 1776, King George III wrote in his diary, “Nothing of Importance Happened Today.”
Nobody doing a year in review story in December 1879 would have mentioned that Albert Einstein had been born that year. Einstein got a lot of attention in 1955, the year he died. But nobody then knew that in that same year, Bill Gates had been born.
Most truly significant events happen gradually, like geologic time, with no clearly defined beginning and ending. We think what is happening with our auto industry is like that. We think the bankruptcy at Delphi and the financial crises at Ford and General Motors are significant signposts. But we don’t know yet exactly what they mean, or exactly what will happen.
Let’s hope that we are still ignorant of the most important news of 2005. Let’s hope that somewhere, in some laboratory some breakthrough happened that will lead to an end to AIDS or Alzheimer’s. Let’s hope that will be the real news.
And that this year’s most important baby will be a lot more like Albert Einstein than like the most important baby of 1889, Adolf Hitler.
Confucius supposedly said the worst curse you could ever lay on anyone was to say, “May You Live In Interesting Times.”
He probably never really said that. But Edward R. Murrow, who is sort of a Confucius-like figure for broadcast journalists, really did sign off by saying Good Night, and Good Luck.
And I can’t possibly do better than that.