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A "Seinfeld" Summer?

Much like the dog that didn't bark, this summer has become notable as much for what didn't happen as what did.

Consider the most recent Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) Weekly News Index, the title of which was, "No Story Dominates a Varied Week for News."

Come to think of it, couldn't you say that for the entire summer? I mean, summertime has become synonymous with tabloid-esque stories that are blown out of proportion: Chandra Levy, Summer of the Shark, Natalee Holloway, etc.

At first this writer thought the media was going to make this the "Summer of Steroids" with Barry Bonds chasing the home run record and Chris Benoit killing his wife, child and himself. Then I thought it could end up being the "Summer of Scandal," due to the NBA gambling scandal, the Bonds story and the federal case against football star Michael Vick.

But neither happened. So was this the "Seinfeld Summer?" The summer all about nothing? Or was it the summer that the media (cue dramatic music) Decided to Get Serious?

I spoke with PEJ's Director Tom Rosenstiel this afternoon to get his take. When I asked why the media hadn't grabbed onto one emotionally-charged story, he had a theory. "Exactly why is hard to say, but among the possible reasons is that we're at war," he suggested. "And we have an important deadline at the end of the summer as we get a progress report on how the troop escalation is working. That may make media people think the audience is in no mood for a summer sensation."

While it's true that the summer featured sporadic hard news stories like the Utah mine tragedy and the Minneapolis bridge disaster, I asked Rosenstiel if the Michael Vick story -- with its elements of race, scandal, celebrity and gambling -- would have become a bigger story in earlier years, when the public mood may have been more receptive.

He immediately tossed aside the racial component, then dismissed the celebrity angle, suggesting that the Vick story was mostly of interest to men – thus, by definition, not a big story to half the population. His most intriguing reason why the Vick story wasn't a bigger deal? "There aren't sympathetic victims that can appear in front of the camera," he noted. "One of the features that is required of a tabloid summer story is someone who can appear on the programs and weave the emotional story: Hollway's mom or the shark survivors, but Vick's story didn't have any of that."

Perhaps summer of 2007 wasn't the "Seinfeld Summer." It did have numerous interesting stories, after all, even if it didn't devolve into a Round-The-Clock-Outside-Gary-Condit's-Apartment rubbernecking fiasco. You could even argue it was a summer the media decided to step back and maintain perspective.

It wasn't, then, about nothing. It was about everything – a war, tragic national and international stories, occasional gaffes, policy debates and some inside the beltway positioning. Well, and Anchorwoman. But all things considered, not too bad.

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