In a move of such metacritical complexity that it may threaten the space-time continuum, the New York Times reports that a Pew Research Center survey found that stories about the so-called Ground Zero Mosque constituted 45% of straight news on cable and radio. I personally look forward to the day when the Times is composed entirely of news reports on statistical surveys of the contents of the news, and Combat! blog can comment on them. Overall, the GZM story accounted for 15% of total newspaper, television and radio coverage, an entity that Pew amusingly refers to as the “newshole.”
The nation’s newsholes opted overwhelmingly to cover the Ground Zero Mosque—which, Pew points out, is not a mosque and is not at Ground Zero—in a week that the last combat troops were withdrawn from Iraq, Rod Blagojevich was acquitted of all but one of his corruption charges, and the economy continued to be the economy. It’s hard not to suspect that the story’s inordinately long legs have something to do with its sheer mutability.
As we pointed out last week, nobody can actually do anything about the Ground Zero Mosque—besides alternately call it a mosque or a community center, located at Ground Zero or several blocks away. In terms of linear development of the story, nothing has happened since Obama said he thought it would be okay; the permits are still held, the land is still owned, and construction is still planned. They’re gonna build it.
Normally such stasis would kill a news item, but in this case it seems to have merely rendered it a blank canvas. As this commentary on a survey showing that the Ground Zero Mosque is a big deal indicates, our contemporary media can make a news story out of anything. The GZM may be the purest expression yet of that ability. As a completely theoretical debate involving the September 11th attacks, Islam, the gap between urban and middle America, religious freedom and the war on terror, it’s pretty much a referendum on our entire society.
It’s also approximately as divisive and stagnant as you would imagine such a referendum to be. Since nothing concrete is at stake, there’s no reason for anyone involved to concede a point, suggest a compromise or even submit to a decision. Untethered from the progress of events or the possibility of decision, the Ground Zero Mosque is as close to a perpetual motion machine as the news is going to get.
That’s good news for the news in an August that doesn’t even have Congress to enliven it. It’s also fodder for those of us who enjoy deploying the phrase “echo chamber” and other dire assessments of how the 24-hour news cycle relates to actual discourse. It’s a curious symptom, though, of the degree to which our society uses real—okay, “real”—events to amuse itself. Faced with no news, or boring news, we seem perfectly willing to make our own.