I no longer watch CNN or Fox News. In spite of claims to the contrary both cable news stations report events with a definite bias. The big three of CBS, NBC and ABC do a bit better, but all too often even their storylines seems to march in tandem. I find the BBC to be far more interesting and informative than any of our national news services because they are not as obsessed with influencing American politics. I read from a number of news sources and rarely find one that simply provides facts without editorial comments. Journalism today is not like it was when I once dreamed of becoming a writer for a newspaper or magazine. Back then articles were a treasure trove of “who, what, when” rather than hidden persuasions. As Joe Friday used to insist on Dragnet the columns that we read on the first page were comprised of “just the facts” not that long ago. Editorials were labeled as such and found in a different section of the paper.
I almost barf every time I hear the term “fake news.” It’s become a ploy for changing the topic and insinuating that the media is making things up. I seriously don’t believe that is the case, but I do feel that the line between pure reporting and editorializing has been blurred beyond distinction. As such we are treated to a continual stream of attempts to influence our thinking rather than a simple presentation of information. It used to be that the critical thinking was left to the reader. Now it is as though every report is couched in persuasive arguments that are hidden between the lines. That’s not fake news, it’s just sloppy journalism.
As a result of this mode of reporting we tend to divide into camps where issues are not judged on their distinct merits, but rather in a way characterized by highly generalized thinking. For example, the word “Republican” is casually used by to indicate someone who voted for Donald Trump and is guilty of a number of vile “isms.” Such people are pictured as being mostly white, male and rather uneducated. Reporters carefully choose individuals who fit their preconceived notions to support their thinking. In other words they work backwards from ideas they wish to promote. This results in those who are more progressive casting a self righteous eye of indignation toward anyone who dares to espouse even a hint of conservatism, and of late it more and more often applies to anyone who has certain Christian beliefs.
On the other side are right leaning news outlets who demonizes Democrats by lumping them all together as dangerous socialists intent on destroying our democracy. They even eat their own kind by throwing under the bus any conservative who dares to disagree with them. Donald Trump was elected in part because many of the conservative commentators used a scorched earth manner of reporting on those Republicans who were moderate or willing to compromise. In the meantime the far left dropped these same individuals into a catch all basket of deplorables and destroyed their political ambitions.
Our news on all sides is more hyperbolic than fair and balanced, making it difficult for any of us to get a clear idea of what is really happening and what will work best to solve problems. It’s a “my way or the highway” kind of world that is tearing apart families and friendships as more and more people jump onboard with the self righteousness of the far left or the far right. It seems to me that most of the media is missing the point that we are indeed being manipulated, but not as much by Russians as by our own press. The stories that they write may not be fake, but they are riddled with far too many propaganda techniques that are churning us up and dividing us from one another. I hate to point this out, but it’s a method that has been used since time immemorial to fool the populace.
I for one have grown weary of it, and find it increasingly difficult not to notice all of the rhetorical devices being peppered into virtually every report of the news. The clinker for me is that it is not just one group or one political point of view that is propagating this style. It has found it’s way into everything, leaving us with no recourse other than to be very careful about learning the truth of anything that we see or read. Having a bit of skepticism would serve us all well.
We’ve reached a kind of watershed in which forces around us are playing with our emotions, and in many ways it is working. It’s up to each of us to halt this dangerous trend by realizing that we can’t use labels of any kind to define individual human beings. A firm sociological principal is that we can’t generalize to an entire population based on a single anecdote and yet that is exactly what many of today’s journalists are doing to increase ratings and their own popularity. That isn’t fake. It’s very real and dangerous for the health of our country.
I believe that most of us feel uncomfortable with the bickering and the dividing that is taking place. It’s time that we lead ourselves out this predicament by putting the brakes on attempts to influence our thinking and our beliefs. We need to turn off the noise when we hear it. It’s easy to identify the difference between good reporting and blathering. If we refuse to listen to those who are editorializing rather than reporting, they will soon go away. Reporting the news is a business. If the powers that be realize that we no longer care for their way of doing things, they will change. We are the customers. We have the power. Let’s stop the insanity.