Late Edition: Is It Finally Over?

Suffering through any of the tele­vision millennial coverage was enough to make one long for a return to the Dark Ages. Each of the networks out­did the other in pretentiousness, as if hyping their own self-importance as chroniclers of the event added mo­mentousness to the event itself. All fea­tured the usual gaggle of talking heads, who filled the airwaves with mindless blather that dissolved into ether as soon as it was uttered.

It’s a toss-up as to which was worse. But if a prize had to be given the winner, it would be ABC, which touted its programming as “The biggest live global event in television history!,” and stayed on the air for 24 hours, begin­ning on the early morning of Decem­ber 31. Out of a perhaps perverse curiosity, I tuned in from time to time as the day wore on. Host Peter Jen­nings was showing the strain eight hours into the broadcast. By the 15th hour, he was barely coherent, and at the end, he was reduced to blubbering. Of course, by then, only insomniac mental patients were watching.

Throughout the day, viewers were treated to an endless stream of politi­cally correct banality, highlighted by an on-the-spot piece of pro-Castro propaganda by Cynthia McFadden that might have been penned by Fidel himself. For comic relief, it was hard to top the treacly interview between Cokie Roberts and her mother, Lindy Boggs, who now serves as ambassador to the Holy See. About this, the less said the better, but it is worth noting that their embarrassing and instantly forgettable exchange was, so to speak, the theological high point of ABC’s coverage. If you had just arrived from Mars and wondered what the fuss was all about, you would have been hard pressed to figure out why the arrival of the third millennium (never mind about the dates) had any religious sig­nificance at all.

Not to be outdone, the news maga­zines weighed in with their own paeans to a pagan world.

The highlight of Time’s special mil­lennium issue was a gaseous “Letter to the Year 2100” by Roger Rosenblatt, who brought new meaning to the defi­nition of narcissistic excess. Few peo­ple in our time consistently manage to say so much about so little: Neither a memorable line nor thought emerged from his endless trek through the con­tents of his millennial mind.

Newsweek at least spared us any such deep-dish thinking but, like Time, bent over backwards to avoid reference to the religious import of the occasion. It did present a full-page photo of the pope delivering his New Year’s message from his apartment balcony, and a couple of pages later mocked a group of Christian millennialists in Ohio who believe that 2000 will be the year of the Rapture. That pretty much exhausted the editors’ religious sensibilities in an issue that devoted two full pages to a shooting in a New York City night club, four to the latest movies and entertainment, and five to the rise of the self-help industry. Chesterton was right: The  striking thing about those who no longer believe in God is not that they believe in nothing but that they will believe in anything.

One somehow expected more from the Economist, but its “Millennium Special Edition,” weighing in at a mail­box crushing 140 pages, presented an historical romp through the past 1,000 years that can only be described as a hymn to triumphal materialism. Chris­tianity is notable only insofar as it failed, one of many historical artifacts, along with, say, the rise of Islam and the invention of oral contraceptives, that give definition—only God knows how—to something called western civ­ilization. Like undergraduates who overdosed on their first history lectures at Oxford and Cambridge, the editors exhibited playfully cynical dubiety about almost everything antedating last week or last year.

But of one thing they were ab­solutely sure, with a tenacity rivaling the conviction of the most purblind devotee of medieval mysticism: The overthrow of religion by science is not only a certi­fiably good thing but a permanent fea­ture of the human condition.

Even as the magazine appeared, an aging but still remarkably vigorous John Paul II delivered his Urbi et Orbi (To the City and the World) homily from the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica, remarking the inauguration of the Jubilee Year and reminding the world that the mystery of mankind’s divine adoption is the one truth that can make men free—yesterday, today, and forever. Perhaps even Cokie, Peter, Roger, and the editors of the Economist paused long enough to listen, and to give thanks.


  • Michael M. Uhlmann

    Michael Martin Uhlmann (1939-2019) served as professor of government in the department of politics and policy at Claremont Graduate University and Claremont McKenna College. Prior to teaching at Claremont, Dr. Uhlmann was a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Vice President for Public Policy Research at the Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and taught at the George Mason University Law School.

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