Christopher Hitchens

Every spring, American camera crews and sound-teams and the boys and girls of ‘the pencil press’ (as it is still quaintly known) load their equipment or stuff their notebooks in a pocket and set off for the unthrilling town of Punxatawney, Pennsylvania. The occasion is ‘Groundhog Day’, when a local creature named Punxatawney Phil is reputed to predict the coming season’s weather. I think it’s the angle of his shadow that is supposed to work the trick. A long time ago, this media ritual passed the point at which it could be called self-satirising, and became instead a ludicrous and embarrassing chore. The reading and viewing and listening public would not notice if this non-event went uncovered, and the media would be glad to be shot of the tedium of ‘covering’ it, but nobody quite knows how to stop the dance. Locked together and sobbing with boredom (as in They Shoot Horses Don’t They?), the numbed partners drag their way across the floor one more time. Russell Baker once wrote a brilliant column about these gruesome proceedings, which summarised for him the participation of the press in events that are staged only for the press’s benefit.

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