Reporting Live from Munchkin Landby Kyle Michaelis
Here's more of the same white-washing by the World-Herald, this time verging on the poetic:
An early-summer automobile trip across the Cornhusker State gives an impression different from realities depicted by the midterm census - and in a recent bleak report on the state's economic growth.
Nebraska looks good right now. Very good indeed. Spring rains have replenished drought-lowered rivers and lakes. Golden waves of wheat in the Panhandle await the combines. Sleek yearlings, Angus and Hereford and exotic mixes, graze beside sparkling Sand Hills lakes. Bales and rolls of hay, and farther east the cornfields and feedlots, stand in indisputable testimony to the importance of agriculture in this state, now and in the future.
The towns are decked out in summer finery. Green lawns and floral plantings do a lot to suggest prosperity and fun. Add the results of spring painting and residential touch-ups, and the banners and posters advertising community rodeos and county fairs, and you have an overall picture of a place where it's summertime and the livin' is easy.
It is easy to travel through the emerald countryside at a time like this and believe that the recent health of the state's revenue picture reflects a solid turnabout. People across the state are upbeat about their lives and prospects. Roads are being upgraded. New bridges are materializing over the Loup and Platte Rivers.
But last week came a midterm census estimate showing that Nebraska has sustained population declines in the majority of its 93 counties since 2000 and we now have reached the point where more than half of all Nebraskans - and, in due time, presumably, half the Legislature - reside in Douglas, Sarpy or Lancaster County.
And several days before that, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that Nebraska's economic output grew less than 1 percent last year, making this the slowest-growing of all the states, economically speaking.
One conclusion is that appearances can be deceiving. Another is that the statistics and their analysis are wrong. But how about a third way of understanding all this: The positive and the negative can comfortably coexist. And in Nebraska in 2005, they do coexist.
Weighed against disturbing population shifts and slow economic growth:
• The population has reached a new milestone - 1.75 million.
• Recent surges in tax revenues suggest that a general economic upturn may have accelerated after the 2004 results were in.
• Sources from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority attest that tourism and entertainment have been exceptionally active in recent months.
Somewhere there is balance enough to prevent a beautiful summer season from being ruined by downbeat statistics.
I neither expect nor desire doom and gloom from the local newspaper, but actual reporting isn't asking too much either. The above editorial makes the World-Herald sound like Dorothy prancing happily around Munchkin Land, as if hard economic data were the work of the Wicked Witch trying to spoil all the fun. This isn't some fairy tale, though, bad news about the Nebraska economy can't be wished away by clicking the heels of your ruby red slippers...even in this reddest of red states.
The way they're depicting Nebraska here, you'd think there wasn't one hungry person in the entire state - let alone potholes or unpaid medical bills. How high up must they be floating in the clouds to really believe that? The only things they forgot to mention are that Nebraska's football team is still #1 throughout the land and J.J. Exon has risen from the grave.
This isn't writing with one eye closed - this is a dispatch from a world that does not exist. The World-Herald should leave the poetry to Ted Kooser and start reporting from reality. That doesn't mean never-ending pessimism, but it certainly doesn't mean the world is all cupcakes and unicorns like this editorial suggests.
The World-Herald is like a confused Chicken Little declaring, "the sky isn't falling, we're just rising up into the heavens." Wishing don't make it so, though. How many anguished cries must we deafen ourselves to before we even admit that people are suffering? Each of these statistics they dismiss represents hundreds of families in crisis - families for whom the livin' is NOT easy and whose prospects most definitely do NOT leave them upbeat.
Look around you. Ask a recent college graduate. That grass sure is green (for now), but all is not as well as our self-appointed handlers in the press would have us believe. Why, then, would they have us believe a lie? Who does it serve? That, dear friends, IS the question.
So, there is your ticket up the rabbit hole, Nebraska. Welcome to the reality-based community.