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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Unfettered Sorrow

Posted By on Thu, Mar 12, 2009 at 2:59 PM

Well, it was only a matter of time: Now CNN has done its own story on hardscrabble Braddock and its mayor, John Fetterman.

So for those keeping track at home, Fetterman and Braddock have recently been featured by CBS, The New York Times, the Colbert Report, CNBC and I think Fox News as well. All within the past couple months. 

We first profiled Fetterman two-and-a-half-years ago, which just proves that if you want to avoid coverage in the major media for 30 months or so, a City Paper cover story is a nice place to hide out. I expect a call from Bernie Madoff momentarily.

But I have to say, I'm astounded by this display of the national media's herd instinct. Braddock's been going down the shitter for a couple decades now. No one cared. But suddenly everyone needs to have the story ... because everyone else already has the story.

And what about all those other hardscrabble towns of the Mon Valley? Is there no love for Rankin, nor Charleroi, nor long-suffering Duquesne? (I'd add McKeesport to the mix, but at least they have this guy in their corner.) If I ran a tattoo parlor, I'd be offering a special on ZIP codes for municipal officials, just like the one Fetterman has emblazoned on his arm. 

None of this is to blame Fetterman himself. For one thing, he could kick my ass. For another, he'd be crazy not to take advantage of this momentary interest in the plight of his constituents. But something about all the sudden media interest seems kind of sad.

For the past 20 years, the national media has been fixated on the ever-mounting Dow, celebrating dotcommers and all the rest while places like Braddock were collapsing from within. Now, suddenly, we're teetering on the precipice of economic catastrophe ... thanks to the same financial wizards we spent so much time celebrating.

You can almost hear the panic in New York and Atlanta. Quick! We need a metaphor for the lamentable plight of our industrial heartland ... but also for the indominitable character of the American people! This Fetterman fellow makes good copy! Get a camera crew out there! 

Back when I was growing up, the industrial wasteland du jour was Homestead, just across the river. A lot of cameras turned out to watch the Homestead Works shut down, and TV folks put on their best anguished faces as they recounted the sad tale of the once-proud American worker. Prince Charles even dropped by at one point. If memory serves, he suggested planting a lot of flowers. 

The phrase I heard used to describe many of those folks was "poverty pimps." The town's misfortune was just something for them to exploit until the next commercial break. And you can see how much their attention did for Homestead, which -- except for the Waterfront mall -- looks as bad or worse than it did 10 and 15 and 20 years ago. 

I hope Fetterman has better luck.

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