Endless outrage is exhausting

September 21, 2018 6:45 am

These times are so uncertain
There’s a yearning undefined
And people filled with rage
– Don Henley

Reporters have always lived on outrage.

They discover, or stumble upon, or hear about some egregious behavior that really gets their blood up and they go after it.

Sometimes it’s a government official abusing his position or maybe accepting expensive gifts that are basically bribes.  Or it’s an insurance company ripping off customers. Or it’s a mortgage company redlining entire neighborhoods. Reporters hear about these kinds of things, are outraged and then watch out!

Certainly, other forces move reporters. Things like duty — they are, after all, doing a job for which they are paid — admiration, and curiosity. But outrage, well, that really stokes the old furnace.

Time was, these outrageous acts would pop up every now and then. That was good, because it takes a lot of effort and money to investigate outrageousness. Reporters can spend weeks on a single story, and while they’re doing that digging other stories naturally get set aside.

Now, though, outrageous stories seem to appear every day. You have to believe reporters have long ago reached outrage overload. It’s exhausting, being angry all the time.

In just the last few weeks , the U.S. Postal Service released candidate Abigail Spanberger’s job application, which included some very secret information about her.

The postal service said it was “human error,” but what the hell does that mean? It was obviously an error because, well, it wasn’t supposed to be released. And it was obviously human. So, calling it a human error is to state the obvious and to say nothing.


And then, to make matters worse, Spanberger’s opponents are publicizing the secret information. Isn’t there a law against this? Shouldn’t someone be arrested?


Then there was President Trump’s announcement that he would kill a scheduled 2.1 percent pay raise for all federal employees.

It has been reported that there are 144,000 federal workers in Virginia. If their average salary is $60,000 a year, which seems low but, hey, we have to pick a number, that would be $1,200 a year per employee. Trump cut taxes for the wealthiest among us and now proposes taking money away from the average among us to pay for it.


U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor’s team rustled up a bunch of signatures on nomination papers to get a candidate on the ballot who ran as a Democrat and lost to Taylor, a Republican, in 2016. The plan, it seems, was to siphon votes from the 2018 Democratic nominee, Elaine Luria.


And it turned out some of the people whose signatures appeared on the petitions were dead and other signatures were forged.

Even more outrageous.

The courts have told the Virginia General Assembly that the district lines drawn by Republicans and supposedly based on the 2010 census were instead based on race. Outrageous. But instead of trying to fix the obvious problem, the Virginia GOP is banking on an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And lately they’ve said their gerrymandered districts will be redrawn based on partisan profiling rather than racial profiling.


These are just a few of the recent outrages centered in Virginia. There’s also the daily spew of lies, duplicity, misinformation and spin coming from the president of the United States and his minions. His recent claim  that only a few dozen people died in Puerto Rico during and because of Hurricane Maria is just one of the more recent. And, by the way, how is it that a couple dozen is somehow okay?

The problem for all of us who have forever depended on newspapers to provide us with the information we need to lead informed lives is that, at the same time there is this explosion in outrageousness, there is an implosion in the size of newsrooms.

News organizations don’t have enough reporters to go around. Reporters don’t have time to do what reporters have always done — answer those daily questions that often start with “what about,” or “why.”  With all the outrageousness, who’s covering the regular day-to-day news?

While we fume, the local planning boards and neighborhood committees and PTAs and police unions and county board committees are continuing to operate.

These days, it can be hard to find out what they’re doing.

Editor’s note: The views of our opinion contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Virginia Mercury. 

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Gordon Hickey
Gordon Hickey

Gordon Hickey is a lifelong reporter and editor who worked for more than 20 years at The Richmond News Leader and Richmond Times-Dispatch covering law enforcement, courts, and politics. He also served as Gov. Tim Kaine's press secretary and most recently was director of communications at the Virginia State Bar.