Saturday, August 25, 2018

Dark news and being honest

Today was one of those days when the news story tells what’s happening, without telling us what’s happening. The report was that Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) had decided to end cancer treatments. We all knew what that meant: His life is nearing its end, the same way we knew that Aretha Franklin’s was ending when the news reported on her decline. Why can’t the newsmedia just be honest with us, rather than turning it into an unspoken virtual deathwatch?

The Associated Press was brutally honest: “McCain stops cancer treatment as remarkable life nears end”, the second sentence of which notes that “It’s a likely indication that the war hero, presidential nominee and longtime leading lawmaker is nearing the end of his life.” Of course it is—we all know that. But for some weird reason no American TV report I saw said as much.

I think that honesty is almost always best. It’s why I always say “died” instead of euphemisms (“passed”, “passed on”, “passed away”, etc, etc, etc). Death is inevitable for all of us, and I cannot see what benefit any of us get from pretending that’s not the case.

Some think that being vague is somehow “comforting” to the family. Seriously?! Do they really think that the family doesn’t know what’s happening or that they’re in denial? And, to be blunt, what makes anyone so arrogant as to think that the family will even be watching every single news show at a time like that? I wouldn’t be, and I don’t know anyone who would.

The newsmedia’s weird squeamishness about speaking honestly is most likely to make themselves feel better, as if by avoiding the topic of the nearing death of someone famous they don’t need to look at how they have handled that person in life. Then, when they do die, they can completely ignore all that to engage is soft-focus remembrances of someone they may not have been kind to in life.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is all about newsmedia outlets just being as weird about death as ordinary people can be. Maybe they don’t like being reminded of their own mortality. I can appreciate that because I don’t really want to be reminded, either. But death is inevitable, and I think we should face it openly and sincerely (bravery is entirely optional). When someone famous is entering their final journey, we should be honest about saying so.

When someone famous dies, beloved or despised, there will be plenty of time to talk about the totality of their life, though most newsmedia won’t do so—another lack of honesty (a topic in itself). So, we don’t need to get into the complexity of our reactions to people at a time like this.

What I think is this: Whenever a life ebbs away, it’s a sad thing for their family, friends and loved ones, and it’s okay to acknowledge that regardless of our personal feelings about the person. But it’s also important to acknowledge that the life is waning.

I was said to hear about Senator McCain, though in no way surprised. I hope that he and his loved ones have great quality time together before the end, and that his death is painless and as easy as possible for them all. Isn’t that what we’d all wish for ourselves—if we’re honest?


rogerogreen said...

I suppose I've become more sympathetic to "passed away" when I saw my mother die in 2011. She was alive then she passed on to being dead. The euphemisms just don't bother me as they used to.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

My complaint isn't so much with what individuals choose to say, especially because sometimes it's cultural. My complaint is with the newsmedia, which always does this sort of thing.

rogerogreen said...

In this case, the question is moot: http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-me-john-mccain-20180825-story.html

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

Yes. We were out at lunch with Nigel's mum when we got news alerts on our phones.