No news is bad news

Last week, the discussion in the RN&R newsroom turned to Trump’s ongoing impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, then entering the second day of the Democrats’ testimony. Eventually, the question was raised: is anyone even paying attention?

On Jan. 23, the Los Angeles Times published a commentary by Lorraine Ali entitled: “The impeachment trial tests the national attention span. Failure is not an option.” Ali is the Times' television critic—a fitting perspective for, in her own words, “A made-for-TV spectacle” starring a reality TV show president. Ali's critique is more of the technical aspects of the impeachment broadcast—much different from the blockbuster movie this case will no doubt one day inspire—but it makes a good central point: Our collective appetite for disaster is wrung out, at the exact moment we most need to pay attention.

The beginning of Trump's trial shared the news cycle with a city-wide lockdown of Wuhan, China, to contain the spread of the deadly Coronavirus, and the tragic death of NBA star Kobe Bryant, his teenage daughter, and seven others in a helicopter crash. This, at the end of a month wherein the U.S. came very near to war with Iran, wildfires burned a large portion of Australia to literal ashes, and here in Nevada, the housing crisis worsens by the day. That's a lot of bad news, and to many, an impeachment trial bitterly divided by party lines is simply too much to keep up with.

At least that was the impression given to our reporter, who posed a question about the trial to some of Reno's citizens for our Streetalk column. One respondent openly admitted to avoiding the anxiety caused by reading anything related to the president's actions, while others felt it was unnecessary to follow the daily proceedings because they had already decided on the president's innocence/guilt—some, seemingly months ago.

The national media has to bear some of the blame for this collective burnout, when every detail and development in the case is packaged as a bombshell, pundits and politicians regularly slam the opposition, and the entire crux of the trial—Trump's dealings with Ukraine—remains “explosive,” even after several months. It can be exhausting to sort through all the meaningless fumes to find the real smoking guns, like former National Security Advisor John Bolton's first-hand accounts of abuses of power.

However, in spite of all this, the impeachment trial is one matter that deserves every American's attention, no matter how tedious it may seem. Beyond the headlines and political posturing, forming an informed opinion about conduct of the nation's top elected official should fall under the banner of civic duty—like voting, or getting drunk on the Fourth of July. While fake news still threatens to upend our civil discourse, remaining informed is the only acceptable course of action when the alternative is apathy. It's tempting to stick our heads in the sand and wait for it all to blow over, but look at it this way: There's probably at least a few very powerful people who don't have your best interests in mind, and that's exactly what they hope you'll do.