HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Light everywhere: The California Civic Data Coalition wants to make public datasets easier to crunch
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
July 27, 2011, 2:30 p.m.

A superhero can’t fix the debt crisis, but he can explain it

Captain America

Not even Captain America can bust through the debt ceiling. What’s a hero to do while the politicians quarrel?

Employ his superhuman powers of explanation, that’s what. For the last four weeks, National Journal reporter and newly minted columnist Major Garrett has channelled Captain America to explain the intricacies of the crisis. The Star-Spangled Avenger sets his shield aside and fields imaginary calls from citizens who are concerned about the prospect of imminent economic calamity. The transcripts of their “conversations” serve as detailed explainers.

“Because Captain America does care about the country and cares about his future, he has invested himself with a deep knowledge of treasury yields, the flow rate of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid payments, and the intricacies of the Gang of Six,” Garrett told me.

If you’re willing to suspend disbelief and imagine Captain America sporting a headset in a call center, it works. He is calm, authoritative, and hopeful, just as you expect him to be.

Here is an excerpt from the latest conversation, posted today:

Caller: So, this is what the abyss looks like?

CA: Actually, we’ve been in it for a while. The pressure’s just starting to get to you.

Caller: Me and everyone else. Is there a way out?

CA: There’s always a way, if there’s a will.

Caller: Hey, if I wanted a Hallmark card, I’d have gone to the drugstore. I need something tangible, something I can hold onto.

CA: So do markets from Tokyo to London to Wall Street. They’re still searching.

Caller: Can Speaker John Boehner’s bill pass the House?

CA: It doesn’t have the votes now. Grassroots GOP groups are divided, but Boehner’s gaining strength. That makes it a jump ball—with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor doing the toss (bet Boehner).

Caller: How many GOP votes can Boehner afford to lose?

CA: No more than 33. And that assumes he picks up 10 Democrats—a stretch since the stronger medicine, “cut, cap, and balance,” pulled only five Democrats.

Garrett said he has gotten a tremendous response both from Washington power players and ordinary readers — exactly the groups he had hoped to reach. National Journal delivers a print product for a specific, highly informed readership, but the material that makes it online reaches a much broader audience. “Straddling those two is a challenge,” he said.

In addition to explaining a complex story, the über-patriot Captain America stands as kind of a beacon of hope in hopelessly combative Washington. A commenter summed it up best: “It isn’t a mess too big for Cap. If he were real, he would do just what he did to the caller — inspire Americans. Captain America’s TRUE super power lies in his ability to be a symbol — a symbol of what America aspires to be, but perhaps isn’t yet.”

The series — which will continue until the world is saved — solves two problems for Garrett. One, it lets him tell an important but — let’s face it — boring story in a fresh and accessible way. And two, it lets him figure out how to become a columnist. He only got the column, “All Powers,” last month, and he’s searching for his voice. In his 27 years of reporting, Garrett has never had a column.

“The only way I could get over my writer’s block, and the sense of fear of doing it strictly in my voice, was coming up with this mechanism,” Garrett said.

“In one sense he’s a superhero to only one person, me. If he helps me get this column done.”

Photo by Andy Roth used under a Creative Commons license

POSTED     July 27, 2011, 2:30 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Light everywhere: The California Civic Data Coalition wants to make public datasets easier to crunch
Journalists from rival outlets are pursuing the dream of “pluggable data,” partnering to build open-source tools to analyze California campaign finance and lobbying data.
Ebola Deeply builds on the lessons of single-subject news sites: A news operation with an expiration date
Following the blueprint of Syria Deeply, the new Ebola-focused site hopes to deliver context and coherence in covering the spread and treatment of the virus.
Who dat? In New Orleans, The Times-Picayune is making print a little more regular
The Times-Picayune was the most prominent example of a daily newspaper cutting print and home-delivery days. But as part of a big bet on football, it’s bringing Mondays back to subscribers — at least for the fall.
What to read next
1020
tweets
The newsonomics of the millennial moment
The new wave of news startups is aiming at a younger audience. But do legacy media companies have a chance at earning their attention?
803A mixed bag on apps: What The New York Times learned with NYT Opinion and NYT Now
The two apps were part of the paper’s plan to increase digital subscribers through smaller, targeted offerings. Now, with staff cutbacks on the way, one app is being shuttered and the other is being adjusted.
537Watching what happens: The New York Times is making a front-page bet on real-time aggregation
A new homepage feature called “Watching” offers readers a feed of headlines, tweets, and multimedia from around the web.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Sports Illustrated
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
ProPublica
CNN
Current TV
San Diego News Network
Mashable
Al Jazeera
IRE/NICAR
DocumentCloud
Politico
Hearst