by Austin Bay
May 24, 2006
Does a billionaire historian exist, a bucks-up wiseman who is prepared to underwrite the Astonishing News Network?
There's more than a market niche for this network -- in an era of instant analysis and insistent gossip, the context, depth and sobriety of ANN is a necessity.
ANN would put real vision into television. More than a merger of The History Channel and C-SPAN, ANN would challenge the tyranny of The Sensational Now -- that repetitive carnival of 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week filler emanating from "all news networks."
ANN editors and producers would examine current events from the perspective of a historian at least 10 to 20 years in the future. Programming for the 2006 to 2016 decade would seek to answer this question: How do we make modernity work?
That really is the big question shaping our times. ANN would help answer it by providing detailed coverage of the planet's sputtering, flailing, suffering, struggling but evolving Arab, African and Asian democracies, and intersperse those complex stories with updates on nanotechnology and genetic engineering. ANN's human interest "puff pieces" wouldn't be Hollywood fluff -- they would anticipate by a decade or more the other networks' "news" by focusing on young "thirty-something" entrepreneurs around the globe (the men and women producing the next generation of wealth).
Like doctors swearing to the Hippocratic Oath, ANN producers and reporters would take the Oath of Thucydides, named after the great Greek historian. OK -- there is no Oath of Thucydides per se, but Thucydides said he wasn't writing for an immediate audience. Hence ANN's Thucydidean commitment: "context, context, context -- then more context."
We live in an era of astonishing events that news organizations addicted to The Sensational Now barely glimpse. "Hot imagery" dominates television. As a result, TV finds incremental economic, political and historical development a particularly frustrating story to tell. A brick is visually boring -- an exploding bomb is not. The genius programmers at ANN will demonstrate the sexiness and ultimate rock 'n' roll possessed by bricks, for the "bricks" and the daily human effort it takes to make and place them are the deep context beneath and behind the truly astonishing events that shape our world and our future.
You think ANN will bore you? I can guarantee you ANN's programming for the past two years would have been the most controversial journalism, guaranteed to outrage the New York Times editorial page and ABC News' bevy of telegenic teleprompter readers.
They'd also be jealous, for ANN would have nailed the stories of astonishing historical consequence. ANN would have pointed out that al-Qaida is being defeated -- it's not dead, but it's on its way to history's dustbin. In the last month, the recorded rants of al-Qaida's cave-dwelling leadership reflect an awareness that their great gambit has failed. Violent political Islamism isn't defeated -- but its al-Qaida avatar is on the ropes.
This week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki introduced Iraq's new, permanent democratic government. A democracy is emerging in Mesopotamia, altering roughly 7,000 years of recorded history. A predominantly Muslim Middle Eastern state is making modernity work. Though bombs still explode in Baghdad (and those bombs are the 24-7 headlines), Iraqis are slowly taking political and economic control. In historical terms, this is astonishing news, but it is slow news, where the evidence builds brick by incremental brick.
Since my billionaire historian has yet to appear and sugar-daddy ANN, it may take five or six years for the astonishing news from Iraq to become common knowledge. But it will, because it is the astonishing truth.