Ancient kings, angered by reports of lost battles and lower pillaging profits, often beheaded the messengers. This led to the inventions of safer communications systems, probably funded by the SMU (Surviving Messenger Union).
Beginning with smoke and tomtom signals, advances were made with carrier pigeons, semaphores, telegraphy, telephones, radio, Emails and ultimately, Facebook. Another result was strict civil service legislation which greatly reduced the severerd head count.
Today, safely protected from decapitation, the media thrives on announcements of bad news. Violent crime, earthquakes, hurricanes and riots are grist for the broadcast and publishing mills. Anchor people seem only slightly moved while reporting the distressing details of a plunging stock market or an approaching megastorm. Sometimes I notice a news reader will touch his or her neck nervously when reporting a tax increase. This might be a primitive reflex motion.
When it gets down to person-to-person reports, I’m sure anchors like NBC’s Lester Holt are as reluctant as the rest of us to tell someone, especially a loved one, about an unfortunate turn of events. I can’t imagine Lester telling Mrs. Holt outright that he accidentally ran the mower through her flower garden by announcing at the dinner table, “Local marigold display demolished! Details at eleven!”
The timing is as important as the wording. If Junior demolished Dad’s cherished beer stein collection while skateboarding in the basement, Mrs. Workingstiff shouldn’t rush to the phone to report the calamity to her husband. No, let Mr. Workingstiff deal with his usual daily challenges. Tonight will be soon enough to try to soften the blow and get Junior off the hook.
Mister W’s favorite dinner entree will help and a strong martini won’t hurt. If he isn’t a cocktail drinker it could be added to his soup. Right after his favorite dessert would be a good time to report the mangled mugs accident unless he’s decided on a cold, foaming stein of Budweiser.
Occasionally, Mrs. Workingstiff will have some personal bad news to report, like when she was adjusting the SUV’s temperature control, didn’t see the stop sign and broadsided the police cruiser. The sumptious dinner and the martini will help, but the phraseology is also important. While Mr. W sits back , sipping suds from his expensive Haucoze stein, his wife can casually remark, “Sweetheart, you’ll never guess who I ran into downtown today.”