Jonah Goldberg (editor of the National Review’s website) on the Columbia disaster:
War, Ambrose Bierce once observed, is God’s way of teaching Americans geography. (Who among us knew where Kandahar was two years ago?) The tragedy of the Columbia is God’s way of teaching Americans about the geography beyond our own solar system and of urging us to consider profound questions about our role there. Just as the slogan “New York’s Finest” wouldn’t be so poignant without the horror of Sept. 11, it’s doubtful whether we would have had a chance to rally behind–or question, for that matter–the space program were it not for the sacrifice of the Columbia Seven.
And it is this fact that makes this week’s feeding frenzy so forgivable. This was not a pseudo-event, to use Daniel Boorstin’s phrase. And it was not a true-crime drama gussied-up as news for the benefit of those who claim to be interested in “current events” but who really want soap operas. “The Columbia is Lost” story involved large themes, important policies and billions of dollars mixed in with drama, tragedy and heroism too. If not this, then what kind of story should the media go overboard about?
Basically, the media went all OJ Simpson on the disaster, but it’s OK, because space is important. I’m not so sure. I’m beginning to think that splicing the shuttle tragedy into the usual media firestorm of GaryConditIraqIraqRobertBlakeIraqIraqWHOOPSNorthKoreaIraqMICHAEL! isn’t a good thing. It trivializes things. It trivializes EVERYTHING.
When Challenger blew up I was undergoing basic training at a Navy camp in Orlando. We were marched outside, ordered about face, and ordered to look up (in recruit training you do NOT look up, which is hard to do because the Orlando camp is near a major airport). “You’re looking at the space shuttle Challenger. It was destroyed.” (pace 30 seconds) “About FACE! Forward MARCH!” So I didn’t get to grieve much.
I didn’t get to grieve much this time, either. The media did it for me.