Yes, Frontline, We Get It

Bloggified by Jake on Tuesday, April 21, 2009

EDIT: Hey, I just realized I already wrote another version of this almost exactly a year ago.

One thing I am regularly criticized for is an inability to stop arguing a point, even after I've won the dispute. The problem is that I enjoy a good debate. I enjoy understanding why people think the way they do, especially when they are incorrect in their thinking. I don't form opinions lightly and I, incorrectly, assume most people do extensive research on topics when they decide how they feel about politics, religion, education, or what football team they root for.

I also have a knack for analogizing. Just read the archives of this blog and you'll find my writing career compared to digging a mine and my last relationship compared to a Lifetime movie. When I create a good analogy, I want to share it.

Unfortunately, if you've already swayed someone to your way of thinking, they don't care how brilliant your analogy putting stem cell research and marketing a new airline all in one bucket together may be, especially if it takes fifteen minutes to hit all your bullet points.

It's because of this, that I empathize with PBS's "Frontline." For the last two decades, "Frontline" has consistently produced some of the best investigative journalism in the world. Where other networks are content to set up hidden cameras and lure guys from internet chat rooms into a house for implied sex with a minor only to have some condescending ass confront them or to hire actors to make people uncomfortable to see "what they will do" and call it "investigative journalism," PBS actually interviews sources, finds untold stories, and reveals worlds we had no idea existed.

At least, some of the time.

Lately, the worlds are ones we do know exist. Largely, we know they exist because Frontline has done such a good job showing them to us.

It's not that "Frontline" doesn't have important stories to tell or a good point to make, quite the opposite! In the last five years, we've gotten several different stories about Iraq from many different angles. Each had it's own perspective and a varied cast of characters, but ultimately at the end of every episode you thought, "Damn, I can see why we went into Iraq, but we probably shouldn't have. I feel bad for all the people who have died and even worse for all the people who've been crippled, but feeling bad isn't going to make everything all better. We have a mess to clean up and there's clearly no easy way to get it done."

Two weeks ago, there was an episode called "Sick Around America" that told stories of how people without health insurance or with bad health insurance have been ruined. This was a follow up to the very interesting "Sick Around the World," which explained how universal health care programs in six different countries work and what aspects would and would not work in America.

Unlike "Sick Around the World," "Sick Around America" because a piling on of sadder and sadder stories. From the CEO of a health insurance giant who's had heart surgery and therefore couldn't ever get private health insurance ("I really can't afford to lose my job," he half-jokes.) to the 63-year-old who had to sell his house and declare bankruptcy because of surgery after he got laid off and lost his insurance through work and now lives with his mother, hoping against hope that he'll live two more years so he can qualify for Medicare to the woman who had her health insurance revoked, died of cancer, then received a letter informing her (survivors) that there was a paperwork mix up and her health insurance never should have been revoked, we are constantly sent the same message: Health coverage in this country is woefully inadequate and while we may not know what the solution is, we better find a solution soon or we're all going to be screwed.

The dilemma is that while I find the stories interesting, I also find them time-consuming and repetitious. While I respect the reporters who went out of their ways to find these sterling examples to illustrate the problems we face, just as I hope someone will respect my ability to encapsulate my arguments with my ex's family as a study of the Iraq War, I can't help but feel I'm spending an hour (sometimes two) being told a five minute point.

Tonight, I opted not to watch "Poisoned Waters," a two-hour documentary that reveals 90% of its findings in its title. I can't help but chide myself and remember the adage about judging and books and covers, especially because so many episode have proven themselves so much more than a simple thesis statement. But as I find myself with less and less time (despite what you may discern from the fact I read 24 Encyclopedia Brown books last week), I find myself more inclined to skim the support materials at PBS.com for five minutes instead of spending two hours being told that chemicals and poisons are bad for the environment.

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