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Covering All Bases: May 15, 2012

Looking Back, Look Forward

“I don’t watch the news. It’s too depressing.”

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that, well, I’d have a lot of nickels. Of course, when you work in the newspaper industry, it’s hard to avoid the news, but is it that depressing? Let’s recap some of the major news stories from this week.


The young Democratic president gave a speech defending his plan for health care reform, while Republicans are criticizing it. A Boeing jet headed for San Juan was returned to New York after a bomb scare. Some New York politicians are upset with the recent redistricting of state senate and assembly districts and are calling for the governor to take action. Speaking of the governor, he visited Long Island and heard from protestors regarding tuition charges in colleges of the State University of New York. He also listened to complaints from residents over jet noise in the area. Later, when speaking to a gathering he stated that current problems are too complex to be simplified into political party affiliations. There is much speculation that he is considering a future run for the White House. And tensions continued over an upcoming election in Greece with economic concerns being the main issue.

That sums it up, right? Oh, one more thing. These stories were all in the news between May 15 and May 21, 1962. That’s right, 1962.  All of these are strikingly similar to the stories dominating the news today. The young president was John F. Kennedy and he spoke at Madison Square Garden to a group mostly comprised of seniors. He was extolling the benefits of an older-age medical plan, which would eventually be adopted during the Johnson administration and be known as Medicare. The jet, Pan Am flight 295, left from New York International Airport and was destined for San Juan before being recalled due to a bomb threat that was phoned in. The threat was a hoax and the flight ventured out again several hours later. The governor was Nelson Rockefeller and after a failed bid for his party’s nomination in 1960 he was considered to be the front-runner for the Republican nomination against Kennedy in 1964. The residents complaining about jet noise lived near New York International Airport. The airport was originally called Idlewild, but the name would be changed to New York International Airport and would be changed again at the end of the following year in honor of the fallen president. And the elected officials making the complaints were New York City Democrats who believed the city was underrepresented with the new redistricting lines.

I did not know about these uncanny coincidences when thinking about ideas for this column. I simply did a search of what has happening 50 years ago searching for an idea and was struck and how similar the news stories of that time are to current headlines.

Those who take a pessimistic view might say that half a century has passed and we’ve made little progress. After all, if we haven’t resolved these issues in 50 years, what hope is there that we’ll ever solve them?

However, I take a more optimistic look. Unprecedented advances in our society have marked the last 50 years. Sure there have been horrible moments, such as the awful September day in 2001. But through it all, as a society we have not only endured, we have thrived.

Advances in medical care have us living longer than ever before. Technological breakthroughs have created amazing things. In 1962, completing a long distance phone call could be somewhat problematic, and quite expensive. Today, I can be in the middle of one of Long Island’s beautiful parks and have a conversation with someone from almost anywhere in the world. In fact, I can even snap a picture with a cell phone and send it to someone in California in less than a minute, all within my monthly cell phone plan. Remember when one-hour photos were considered remarkable? Even this column, may not have been possible in 1962. Doing research of news stories from 50 years ago would have required a trip to the library and hours of work going through microfilm. Today, all that was needed was a visit to my library’s website and a few clicks of a mouse.

Will the same stories still be dominating the headlines in 2062 as they are today? Probably not. But I do hope that we can make as much progress during the next 50 years as we have over the last 50, even if we are still debating health care reform and redistricting.