One-Week Wonders: We Pay Attention So You Don’t Have To

BY Gwen Ifill  December 3, 2010 at 1:13 PM EST

I have a new theory. Let me know what you think about it.

Has it occurred to anyone lately that so many of the things we obsess about turn out to be stories that last for – give or take — one week?

This gelled for me during Thanksgiving week when, thanks to my pal Michele Norris, I got to take a week off from “Washington Week” and concentrate on brining my turkey. (Write for the recipe. It was delicious.)

Watching from a distance, I detected a trend I had noted before but actually had the space to consider: The One Week Story.

Perhaps you’ve noticed this as well especially in the age of cable news and online news feeds that demand a 24-hour beast be fed. Certain stories smolder, explode, burn and then die out in a span that generally takes no more than seven days.

Remember Terry Jones? You can be forgiven if you do not, because his week in the spotlight began and ended with his misguided but compulsively-covered vow to burn a Qur’an last September. The controversy he generated – which you will recall grew to involve the commentary of Gen. David Petraeus, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama – was gone in (you will forgive) a flash.

But that did not stop us from briefly elevating him and his dubious cause to an alarming degree that worried Muslims at home and confirmed worst suspicions abroad.

More recently, just before Thanksgiving, we endured another flash-in-the pan moment — a faux controversy about TSA pat-downs.

Even as we all debated this issue ad nauseum in the days leading up to the biggest travel day of the year, I sailed through airports on my appointed rounds, accompanied by hundreds of fellow travelers who were doing the same.

The horror stories, to be sure, were evocative – stripped-down children, violated mastectomy patients and chinos-wearing men protective of their “junk.” (Such a delicate term.) The reality was less horrible. A scheduled travelers’ uprising failed to materialize – proving that most travelers were more eager to get over-the river-and-through-the woods than to rise to a twitter-fueled controversy.

From beginning to end, this may have lasted a week-and-a-half, but with the same general outcome as the Qur’an burning. Nada.

As we slog through the closing weeks of a lame-duck Congress, it is worth keeping in mind that this will happen again.

The new START treaty has been on the agenda for months, but the truly important ratification debate will last …about a week.

The year-end deadline for extending the Bush-era tax cuts has been in place for years, but the tense closed-door negotiations and angry speeches (“Chicken crap,” incoming House Speaker John Boehner declared) will wind down in…oh, about another week.

This sturm and drang will play out here in Washington while the rest of the world is hanging wreaths, downing eggnog and lighting their menorahs.

Not to worry. When the holidays are all over for the rest of you, we’ll still be here, on the hunt for the next one week wonder.

Gwen’s Take is cross-posted with the Washington Week website. Click here for the list of guests on this Friday’s roundtable and follow Gwen on Twitter.