It's Not Hanes until I Say

Remember some years ago, when Hanes underwear had an ad campaign with an older woman doing final Q.C. inspection?  She sternly proclaimed, "It's not Hanes until I say it says Hanes!"  Very definitive, quite final.

Fast-forward a few light-years to today's incredibly complicated, bombastic political environment.  Every day, some new, earth-shattering "revelation" comes to light about some supposed ethical or legal transgressions committed by President Trump, Robert Mueller and his investigation, James Comey, the FBI, the DOJ, James Clapper, John Brennan, Hillary Clinton, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and a host of others.

Breathless, agenda-driven cable news pundits, consumed with animus and loathing for the opposition, proclaim that the latest outburst by the perpetrator du jour will result in a constitutional crisis, will shake the legitimacy of the institution down to its very foundations, has created a crisis bigger than Watergate, will undermine the public's confidence in that function so grievously that it won't recover for at least a generation, and will destroy the world's confidence in the credibility of our government, undermining our foreign policy efforts, damaging our national security, and vexing the world's financial markets for years to come.

That's what the cable pundits would have you believe.  But it's not quite true.

It's not a question of the legal, factual implication of any specific action.  The actual legality or importance of an activity can generally be viewed only in the context of whether it matters to people and whether there is any tangible damage to an aggrieved party.  Some of these actions meet that standard, and others do not.

Let's say a car is left running in a convenience store parking lot while the driver runs in to make a quick purchase.  If a person steals that car, that's a crime.  Black and white.  But then later it comes to light that the person took the car in order to drive a family member to the hospital in an emergency situation, and there was no alternative transportation available in the necessary timeframe.  The car is returned undamaged, and the car's owner decides not to press charges.  Then it's not a crime, and it's as if it never happened.  Some things can be forgiven, and some things can't.  The gray area is vast, inconsistent, and largely undefined, dependent mostly on non-recurring circumstances, especially in the political arena.

It boils down to whether or not the public at large notices and cares.  In other words, do the media cover it in a manner and to a degree such that the issue is transformed from a niche topic of interest only to ardent followers of political minutia to a widely known occurrence that passes the "Do they discuss it around the work water cooler" test?  That's what matters – does the "average person" know and care?  That's when public pressure builds to the point when the individuals in question are forced to take real action.  Only then.

  • Sport hunting was not a major issue to most people in their daily lives until the media publicized a Minnesota dentist shooting Cecil the Lion.
  • Hundreds of handgun murders – including many children – in Chicago are not a big national issue because the media don't push the story.
  • White farmers in South Africa being attacked and persecuted is not a major story here in the U.S. because the media don't cover it.
  • The volcano in Hawaii is a huge story, because the media led with it every hour.
  • Stormy Daniels, a second-rate adult actress (sorry, redundant), is headline news because the media create the headlines.
  • NASA data show that the Earth's temperature cooled between 2016 and 2018, but the media don't report it, so it's not news.
  • Classified emails from Huma Abedin somehow show up on her husband Anthony Weiner's laptop computer, but it's not a major story because the media don't make it one.

There are dozens and dozens of other examples.  Whether or not any of these specific examples matters to a given individual is not the issue.  We need to refrain from the temptation of saying, "Well, that one should have been covered more" or "that one wasn't important at all, so no wonder it wasn't covered."  That is not the point.

Neither is trying to divine the motives and intent behind the coverage or non-coverage of any specific story.  Long-winded explanations and so-called proof exist that supposedly show the political motivation behind the coverage of any particular story or issue, whether that media outlet wants to support or shield a specific party or person, and whether one wants to push or counter a given narrative.

That's not the point, either.  It's a given that media outlets, reporters, and pundits all have their agendas.  It's a given that any particular story or issue may or may not be of interest to an individual news consumer.

But until the issue at hand reaches the water cooler stage – until it says Hanes to the casual observer – no amount of frenzied, hyperbolic hand-waving can imbue any issue with the importance necessary for it to cut through the fog of frightening inattentiveness that surrounds most voters.

No, it's not bigger than Watergate.  No one at the office is talking about it.  Not yet, anyway.

Remember some years ago, when Hanes underwear had an ad campaign with an older woman doing final Q.C. inspection?  She sternly proclaimed, "It's not Hanes until I say it says Hanes!"  Very definitive, quite final.

Fast-forward a few light-years to today's incredibly complicated, bombastic political environment.  Every day, some new, earth-shattering "revelation" comes to light about some supposed ethical or legal transgressions committed by President Trump, Robert Mueller and his investigation, James Comey, the FBI, the DOJ, James Clapper, John Brennan, Hillary Clinton, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and a host of others.

Breathless, agenda-driven cable news pundits, consumed with animus and loathing for the opposition, proclaim that the latest outburst by the perpetrator du jour will result in a constitutional crisis, will shake the legitimacy of the institution down to its very foundations, has created a crisis bigger than Watergate, will undermine the public's confidence in that function so grievously that it won't recover for at least a generation, and will destroy the world's confidence in the credibility of our government, undermining our foreign policy efforts, damaging our national security, and vexing the world's financial markets for years to come.

That's what the cable pundits would have you believe.  But it's not quite true.

It's not a question of the legal, factual implication of any specific action.  The actual legality or importance of an activity can generally be viewed only in the context of whether it matters to people and whether there is any tangible damage to an aggrieved party.  Some of these actions meet that standard, and others do not.

Let's say a car is left running in a convenience store parking lot while the driver runs in to make a quick purchase.  If a person steals that car, that's a crime.  Black and white.  But then later it comes to light that the person took the car in order to drive a family member to the hospital in an emergency situation, and there was no alternative transportation available in the necessary timeframe.  The car is returned undamaged, and the car's owner decides not to press charges.  Then it's not a crime, and it's as if it never happened.  Some things can be forgiven, and some things can't.  The gray area is vast, inconsistent, and largely undefined, dependent mostly on non-recurring circumstances, especially in the political arena.

It boils down to whether or not the public at large notices and cares.  In other words, do the media cover it in a manner and to a degree such that the issue is transformed from a niche topic of interest only to ardent followers of political minutia to a widely known occurrence that passes the "Do they discuss it around the work water cooler" test?  That's what matters – does the "average person" know and care?  That's when public pressure builds to the point when the individuals in question are forced to take real action.  Only then.

  • Sport hunting was not a major issue to most people in their daily lives until the media publicized a Minnesota dentist shooting Cecil the Lion.
  • Hundreds of handgun murders – including many children – in Chicago are not a big national issue because the media don't push the story.
  • White farmers in South Africa being attacked and persecuted is not a major story here in the U.S. because the media don't cover it.
  • The volcano in Hawaii is a huge story, because the media led with it every hour.
  • Stormy Daniels, a second-rate adult actress (sorry, redundant), is headline news because the media create the headlines.
  • NASA data show that the Earth's temperature cooled between 2016 and 2018, but the media don't report it, so it's not news.
  • Classified emails from Huma Abedin somehow show up on her husband Anthony Weiner's laptop computer, but it's not a major story because the media don't make it one.

There are dozens and dozens of other examples.  Whether or not any of these specific examples matters to a given individual is not the issue.  We need to refrain from the temptation of saying, "Well, that one should have been covered more" or "that one wasn't important at all, so no wonder it wasn't covered."  That is not the point.

Neither is trying to divine the motives and intent behind the coverage or non-coverage of any specific story.  Long-winded explanations and so-called proof exist that supposedly show the political motivation behind the coverage of any particular story or issue, whether that media outlet wants to support or shield a specific party or person, and whether one wants to push or counter a given narrative.

That's not the point, either.  It's a given that media outlets, reporters, and pundits all have their agendas.  It's a given that any particular story or issue may or may not be of interest to an individual news consumer.

But until the issue at hand reaches the water cooler stage – until it says Hanes to the casual observer – no amount of frenzied, hyperbolic hand-waving can imbue any issue with the importance necessary for it to cut through the fog of frightening inattentiveness that surrounds most voters.

No, it's not bigger than Watergate.  No one at the office is talking about it.  Not yet, anyway.