In these days when everything is described as a crisis, and some things really are, little about the news is reassuring. But let a quiet word of appreciation be said for one bright news spot amid the gloom.
Through successive waves of real or imagined calamities recently -- communists advancing toward San Diego and stopping only God knows where, U.S. warships crossing the "line of death," U.S. planes launching night attacks, terrorists threatening greater atrocities, nuclear and space disasters -- there remains one daily refuge from what appears to be a world gone mad.
That is National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," which continues to provide a sober, sane, calm and informative portrait of daily events. And, wonder of wonders, it does so with a refreshing sense of humor and perspective often missing amid the electronic gabble, hype and synthetic drama filling America's air waves.
As one of its faithful listeners, I want to take the occasion of this 15th anniversary of "All Things Considered" to pay tribute and to make a plea: Keep it up. Never have you been so needed.
Not that other elements of the news media, print or broadcast, are falling down on the job in these tense times. The contrast between information given U.S. and Soviet citizens after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident ought to be a source of pride to every American and a reminder of the free press' indispensable role in a democracy. At the same time, the old-fashioned medium of radio, at least the public broadcasting brand, provides another example of indispensable news coverage.
NPR takes the time to present issues in greater context and far less hurriedly than is usually the case with television. Where 90 seconds for a news segment is generally the rule on the networks, public radio gives three or four times as much air time to exposition of an issue, often with telling effect.
Last week, for instance, I listened with interest to a spot about a puzzling aspect of the Libyan episode: why European allies had not gone along with U.S. requests to isolate Libya through economic sanctions.
An answer was supplied during an interview with Henry Schuler, a former oil company executive who supervised Mideast operations for U.S. firms and is a senior fellow at the Georgetown University Center for Strategic and International Studies. It was provocative and persuasive: Europeans kept reminding U.S. officials that they ought first to get their own house in order and ensure that American oil firms stop doing business in Libya, supplying revenues that permit Muammar Qaddadi to purchase Soviet missiles to shoot down U.S. planes.
"Let's remember that the president said we're going to break all economic relationships with Libya and we recognize that that's going to have adverse economic consequences for American citizens, corporate and private," Schuler said.
"However, that's the cost of security. Having heard that, the oil companies scurried around, found the most expensive drawer-openers they could find in Washington and turned up. Obviously they're not going to say we love Qaddafi, so they came in and blew a lot of smoke about how they would be forced to abandon their assets and that it would be a windfall for Qaddafi were they to do so. However, there is nothing to that. The windfall is that Qaddafi currently has these companies there finding a market for him for about a third to 40 percent of his oil output on which he gets about 95 percent of the proceeds of the oil that they sell. U.S. strategic interests are being sacrificed to their 5 cents on the dollar that they are allowed to keep," he said.
That may not be the whole story, but the Reagan administration has belatedly bought that basic argument and ordered the U.S. firms out of Libya. Similarly instructive reports have graced public radio's coverage of the nuclear accident.
These aren't the only reasons to bow its way.
Far more than the commercial networks, "All Things Considered" takes listeners from the heavy grist of official news in Washington to the very different world beyond the capital. It offers, in a multitude of voices and idioms, a different kind of news, the type especially welcome today.
That news is that, despite the grim and pervasive disaster reports, most people are going about their lives without fear or panic and with confidence in the future. Here's one listener grateful for the reminder.