Ever since I read that more people watched Paris Hilton's reality TV show than watched Diane Sawyer's interview with George Bush after the capture of Saddam Hussein, it has really bothered me. Part of the problem for me was I didn't know at the time who Paris Hilton was, but still, I thought, 'There has got to be some reason.' Maybe I thought in this age when political spin rules, we no longer expect our politicians to tell us much, so we just tune all of them out.
But then I reread one of William Manchester's books about Churchill, and then I decided the answer may go beyond that. Because Manchester said that World War I was the first historical event where reality outstripped imagination. What he meant was that the carnage was so horrible, no one could have imagined it, and afterward it produced such revulsion to war that Europe's people were plunged into denial that ran so deep they were unable to see there was something worse coming.
Churchill tried to warn them, but his people ignored him and instead they were transfixed by stories in the British press about the adventures of the vicar of Steedham, who had amazing success seducing waitresses, was found out, defrocked and began a new career taming lions, only to be eaten by one. It was all people could talk about.
Has Paris Hilton become our vicar of Steedham? Was the horror of 9/11 so beyond our imagination that we've tried to escape into the unreality and vulgarity of reality television, rather than coming to grips with the fact that there is far worse ahead if we do not eradicate terrorism? Terrorism is not reality television. It is reality, the reality we have a choice to face or avoid as we begin another year.
By Bob Schieffer
Copyright 2004 CBS. All rights reserved.