News cycle turned cyclone: One 24-hour period of politics, media, news, entertainment and technology capture our era.
A teary U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., addresses a news conference in New York, Monday, June 6, 2011. After days of denials, a choked-up New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner confessed Monday that he tweeted a bulging-underpants photo of himself to a young woman and admitted to "inappropriate" exchanges with six women before and after getting married.
Critics often lament the dearth, if not the death, of era-defining novels like "The Bonfire of the Vanities," which captured the over-the-top 1980s. But could even its author, Tom Wolfe, keep up with just one rapid-fire day in this media-dominated decade?
The latest 24-hour example of how the news cycle has become a news cyclone began Sunday night. Early evening news reported that Sarah Palin supporters had attempted to alter Wikipedia in order to sync with her idiosyncratic version of Paul Revere's ride.
Up next, the "MTV Movie Awards." Among the honorees was actress Reese Witherspoon, a pop-culture elder stateswoman at 35, who received an MTV "Generation Award." Upon accepting, Witherspoon warned wannabe starlets about modern media.
"I get it girls, that it's cool to be a bad girl," she said. "But it's possible to make it in Hollywood without doing a reality show. When I came up in this business, if you made a sex tape, you were embarrassed and you hid it under your bed. And if you took naked pictures of yourself on your cell phone, you hide your face, people!"
The warning was too late for some young women, including Kim Kardashian, the reality TV star whose fame is directly due to her sex tape, and "Gossip Girl" star Blake Lively, who enlivened gossip sites with a phone photo scandal.
And it was too late for at least one middle-aged man, Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., whose social-media sex scandal represents how the intensifying intersection of media and politics increasingly defines, and distorts, not only the news narrative but our era.
For days, Weiner had weaseled around allegations that he tweeted a lewd photo. Once it became apparent that further photographic proof was forthcoming, he scheduled a news conference to confront the issue.
The new evidence came from an old nemesis to liberals such as Weiner: Andrew Breitbart, the controversial conservative journalist behind the website BigGovernment.com.
Breitbart first emerged as a key contributor to the influential Drudge Report, and then gained notoriety by helping James O'Keefe, whose undercover videos sent ACORN, Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio (NPR) seeking cover from enraged Republican budget-cutters.
Defenders of those organizations claim O'Keefe's videos were selectively edited. Breitbart faced similar charges when he released a parsed portion of Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod's speech, which got her fired and ignited a media firestorm.
Breitbart (who will be in Minneapolis next week at the RightOnline conference) felt he was wronged when Weiner initially blamed him for the scandal. So he showed up early, commandeered the news conference, and told reporters: "I'm here for some vindication."
To make sure he got it, Breitbart held as an insurance policy an even more graphic photo allegedly sent by Weiner. At the chaotic news conference, Breitbart also said: "I have no intention to release that photo. ... I'm doing this to save his family, OK?"
But just two days later, Breitbart couldn't resist showing shock jocks Opie and Anthony the picture during an interview on Sirius satellite radio. The snap was snapped up on another digital camera, and then tweeted. Hours later it was revealed the Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, was pregnant. So much for protecting the family.
ABC also helped Breitbart get his vindication by lending him the legitimacy of its news division. Its partnership with Breitbart, who held the scoop, is yet a further blurring of journalistic conventions.
But it's not the only one. That same day, the big media news was Katie Couric signing as an ABC News contributor and host of an Oprah Winfrey-style talk show after Winfrey's recent daytime TV departure.
Couric's career shift was surprising to some. After all, she rose to the top spot at the network of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. But she opted to optimize the profit possibilities that Oprah enjoyed, despite reportedly being paid $15 million a year to anchor the third-place "CBS Evening News."
CBS has had better luck with its top-rated prime time schedule, however, and has TV's hottest hit drama, "The Good Wife." It's about a woman trying to pick up the pieces after her husband, a politician, gets caught in a sex scandal (comparisons to Silda Spitzer will now shift to Abedin).
Silda's husband, Eliot, opined with unique firsthand knowledge of a political sex scandal on his CNN talk show. Rival MSNBC and Fox hosts' hostility toward Weiner was a rare bipartisan break from the permanent partisan media culture.
Concurrently, it was reported that Glenn Beck, who has accelerated this divide, would be beginning his own fee-based internet network after he leaves Fox News.
"The Daily Show" also had its fun. Host Jon Stewart did a brief bit on Weiner -- once his roommate -- and then turned to the indictment of John Edwards, who got caught in his own sex scandal with an internet videographer. The National Enquirer broke that story -- and was considered for a Pulitzer Prize.
As if to send a message, Couric's replacement, Scott Pelley, didn't lead with the lewd tale on his first newscast. But the scandal still overshadowed everything that day, based on Web and water cooler chatter.
That's a loss, not just for Pelley, but for us. History will forget the hysterics of the scandal. But several stories crowded out of conversations may prove more profound, like another horrible housing market report, Rick Santorum entering an unsettled 2012 GOP race, and new strategies to fight cancer.
Most important, there were also two reports about two of the three wars we're fighting: The bloodiest day in five years in Iraq, where five GIs, including Sgt. Emilio Campo Jr., 20, an army medic from Madelia, Minn., were killed. And Pelley led with the intensifying debate on Afghan war policy.
Pelley ended with the story of another army medic, Ted Morgan. Unlike Campo, he survived enemy fire, which he faced during the D-Day invasion that took place 67 years ago on Monday. Returning to Normandy for the first time, the recipient of the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart humbly retold his heroic story.
The contrast between the previous 24 hours and what World War II veterans sometimes call "The Longest Day" couldn't have been more vivid had Wolfe written it.
One story Pelley did not get to, perhaps because of the sex scandal, was covered by NPR. It was about the growing threat of America's enemies using computers to destabilize our defenses -- cyberwar.
Then again, maybe Pelley needn't have bothered. The threat, it would seem, is from within, and we appear well on the way to doing the job ourselves.
John Rash is a Star Tribune columnist and editorial writer.