Balloon lesson #1: Hot air works

The pathetic cycle of national “news” last week centered on two subjects. The first was Rush Limbaugh’s “bid to buy the St. Louis Rams,” the second was the embarrassing “balloon boy” saga that was covered live, not only on CNN but also on Al Jazeera and the BBC.

The end result of these stories was twofold: 1. The name “Rush Limbaugh” became ubiquitous in the media and on the lips of everyone from Wolf Blitzer to your grandma yet again. 2. Nancy Grace and HLN now have at least two months of fresh fodder for their nonsense shows.

We’ve got to talk about something, right?

The only problem is that, when digging deep enough, one realizes there was plenty of real news last week.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed two State bills last Sunday, affectionately named SB 218 and SB 86. SB 218 would have, in short, made California State University schools disclose where their money is coming from and where it is spent. It passed the state Assembly by a 67-0 vote (now that’s bipartisan) only to die by “The Governator’s” pen.

SB 86 would have prevented CSU and UC executives from receiving pay raises during times of economic crisis. Arnold terminated that one too, and the UC regents have already approved $9 million in executive pay increases for next year. We have fee increases and class cuts, they get pay raises.

It makes me mad. Doesn’t it make you mad? The altruistic rebel in me wants to do something about it. I want to get loud and emotional and, and do something about it!!

But let’s be realistic here. Even with the megaphone of this column, I have no hope of raising concern about this issue.

From watching out of the corner of my eye last week I learned more than I’d ever like to know about the balloon family. I even know that the dad has a creepy ‘90s haircut.

Yet, I freely admit that if I didn’t work for a newspaper I would have no clue about the vetoes of SB 218 and SB 86, much less would I be angry enough about them to want to “do something about it!”

These bills don’t have a political problem, they have a marketing problem. The news media is a business and the ‘good guys’ need to learn to play the game.

No one will ever remember names like “SB 218” and “SB 86”. They need to name these bills and name them right.

Republicans are masters of this technique. Just try and oppose bills like the “Clear Skies Act,” the “Patriot Act,” and the “Keep Terrorists Out of America Act.”

If Gov. Schwarzenegger had just vetoed the “Stop Abusing Student Money Bill” and the “No More Shady Business Tactics from the CSU Bill,” it might have been a bigger story, no?

I know, it sounds a little goofy, but so does an international scandal involving a little boy in a hot air balloon flying over Colorado.

We are always quick to blame the public for being uninformed and lazy, but when one turns on “the most trusted name in news” and is subject to an hour’s worth of a flying saucer hoax followed by Limbaugh talk, there is little else we can expect.

Nor can CNN be blamed. Rush and Balloon Boy are fun stories and exciting talking points – they sell.

So this one goes out to the few good guys at the top: we want to help you, but you’ve got to help yourself. Throw in some energy and scandal. Hop in the mud pit with Rush and Nancy and make us watch.

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