As we live our lives increasingly in a flood of information, sometimes it’s hard to know what to believe, or what to look at next. The need to hype things
up to draw in viewers, readers or website traffic leads to many trivial events
being treated as major news. In addition to facts, one of the great gifts that
journalism should give citizens is perspective. I don’t think there’s enough of that.
I’ve been thinking about how this hype machine would treat some big news events
from recent history. There are people still living from when these things
happened, but the events have passed from popular memory. What would cable news
do with these?
MONA LISA STOLEN!
This really happened. An Italian named Vincenzo Peruggia, who was apparently
annoyed that a great Italian masterpiece such as the Mona Lisa was housed not
in Italy but in France, walked into the Louvre in Paris on Aug. 21, 1911, and,
finding the gallery where the painting was housed empty, took it off the wall,
concealed it under his painter’s smock, and walked out with it.
As you might imagine, this was a big scandal. The guard who was normally on duty
in that area was home because his child had the measles. The replacement guard
had wandered away for a smoke break. And one of the masterpieces of world art
was left unguarded.
The painting was missing for more than two years, until the thief answered a
want ad from an art collector seeking to purchase art. The collector tipped off
the police, who arrested Peruggia in a Milan hotel room, where the Mona Lisa
was concealed in a false bottom of his suitcase, underneath his socks, shirts
It was returned to the Louvre, where, to this day, you can stare into the backs
of heads of people taller than you packing into the gallery to see the Mona
1,000 SQUARE MILES FLATTENED BY METEOR!
This really happened. Among the many things we all should be thankful for each
day, one of them is that we didn’t live near the Tunguska River in Siberia in on June 30, 1908, when a meteor
exploded in midair and utterly flattened about 1,000 square miles (read that
again, slowly) of forest.
The Tunguska Event, as it is called, happened within the lifetimes of some of
our grandparents, yet isn’t very well known.
If you want a measure of how far information technology and ease of travel have
come, think of this: the first expedition to go to Siberia and check out what
happened was a Russian group that showed up in 1921—13 years after the impact.
Today a flock of TV satellite trucks would ring the site. The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore would be there inexplicably in a slicker, and radio talk show
hosts would somehow blame the meteor on the President, Congress, the Supreme
Court, or possibly all three.
FLOOR OF CONGRESS RAKED WITH AUTOMATIC GUNFIRE!
This really happened. In 1954 a group of four Puerto Rican separatists—people who thought Puerto Rico should be independent, rather than part of the
United States—entered the U.S. Capitol with automatic weapons, went to the spectators’ gallery above the floor of Congress, and opened fire. Five members of Congress
were shot, although none fatally. This came only a few years after another
group working for the same cause came very close to killing President Harry
After stopping the gunfire, the attackers, who were led by a young woman, Lolita
Lebron, then unfurled a Puerto Rican flag as Lebron shouted “Puerto Rico libre!”
Now, take a deep breath, and think: in this time of heightened awareness of
terrorism, what do you think that cable news and talk radio shouters would make
The attack on the Capitol happened when Dwight Eisenhower was president, and
after the group was tried and convicted, he commuted the death sentences of the
Lolita Lebron, the leader of the raid, died this past August, at her home in
Puerto Rico. She was 90.
My first homily for today is that we have many more ways to find out about news
now than ever before, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we know more about what’s going on.
My second homily: watch the sky.
Follow Wayne on Twitter: @woodw