I Read The News Today, Oh Boy.

Let’s get this out of the way first.  I am partisan. 

Trump was a terrible President, is a terrible person, and is a danger to our country’s values and Constitution.  I think the same of his enablers and his followers.

Joe Biden is an OK, not great President.  He has overseen an economy with the lowest unemployment rate in decades along with the highest inflation rate in a long while (Phillips Curve, anyone?), both due to programs passed to deal with the pandemic.  We have also had the highest economic growth since the mid-80s.   And through all this, he has been hamstrung by Republican opposition that is based on no platform other than making sure that he fails.

Yes, he has an unfortunate flair for the faux pas.  Yes, occasionally his temper allows him to actually say what he is thinking.  Yes, he has a razor thin margin in the Senate with two recalcitrant Dems who could, on many issues, be Republicans.  Yes, the CDC has been a moving target, but so has Covid.  True, the President has put public health before popularity.  Yes, President Biden is wrestling with a saber rattling Russian head of state who wants the NATO missiles in the Ukraine that are aimed at his country removed. Putin would like the close in NATO forces farther away. It has been a rancorous and thus far inconclusive discussion between Russia and NATO. However, and despite his shortcomings and or lack of closure on some issues, President Biden has managed to shepherd the country through another year of pandemic without economic disaster and kept his cool (and ours for the most part) as we have reacted to some very trying events.

With, or in spite of all that, I am seeing a true change in the nature and tenor of news reporting.  Now, we know that newspapers, magazines, radio, and, with the birth of Fox and MSNBC, television have always had their partisan players.  Nothing new there – from William Randolph Hearst to Rupert Murdoch, from Horace Greeley to the Ochs/Sulzberger dynasty at the New York Times, news associated with political parties is not a new concept.

Neither is muckraking or innuendo or vicious ad hominem attacks.

What I do think is new and different recently (like, I don’t know, the last 20+years) is the unremitting criticism and negativity that pervades today’s presentation of what passes for news.  Fox News readily admits that their programming is not “news,” it is entertainment.  But really, today, how different is that from Politico, or The Daily Beast, or MSNBC?  Or NPR or the BBC?  I would argue not much.

It seems to me that all “news” sources have become entertainment, and they have discovered that hate, derision, skepticism, doubt, negativity, and partisanship sell better than fact-based news, balanced reporting, and fairness.

The results have been predictable.  We reflect our politics (or vice versa).  We are living in a starkly divided country where the extremes of our political policies drive party platforms.  But there are other implications.

In 2012,  a Fairleigh Dickinson University survey reported that the Fox News audience knew less about current affairs than those who did not watch any news at all.  Research done by American Politics Research in 2020 reinforces the earlier work, as in “ [in] other kinds of knowledge ([e.g.,] ‘society-oriented knowledge’, comprising key facts about society and things affecting society), the evidence does point to a possible association between visiting the site and lower levels of knowledge.”  These two pieces of research included such news outlets as ABC News, BuzzFeed, CNN, Fox News, The Huffington Post, NBC News, The Washington Post, among others.

This is not just a riff on Fox News, although they are clearly a poster child for all of this. But it is more than that. The Pew Center presented research that demonstrated that “Americans who mainly get their news on social media are less engaged, less knowledgeable.” P.S., those folks also tend to be younger.

In 2019, Towards Data Science published an analysis of the headlines’ sentiment (Positive/Negative) of 20 news sources.  Only the Wall Street Journal scored net positive (hard to believe but true), and USA Today was on the line.  Of the 18 others, the most negative news sources were Infowars, RT, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Breitbart, and Fox.  ALL except the two noted above were negative.

Moreover, I would argue not only negative, but nitpicky, minutia focused, lacking context, and skewed to score political points.

“Biden misses on Covid Promises” (a real headline) – yes, but that reflects the fact that a sizable portion of the country has refused vaccination as a political statement, along with the appearance of two different virulent mutations.  Why that headline?  Because it grabs a lot more attention than “Recent Covid variants and lack of vaccination are making it hard for Biden to achieve desired results”

A sample of current headlines:

Pope Benedict Willfully Let Children Be Raped: Lawyer (Daily Beast)
Court Battle Over a Ventilator Takes a Patient From Minnesota to Texas (The New York Times)
A Dam in Syria Was on a ‘No-Strike’ List. The U.S. Bombed It Anyway. (The New York Times)
City of Demons: Democrat governor admits crime spree leaves Los Angeles looking like ‘third world country’ (Fox News)
Newsom’s crime comments ripped by California DA (Fox News)
DA slams far-left prosecutors after murder of UCLA grad student (Fox News)
The Democrats’ Election-Law Circus (National Review)
Biden’s Year of Failure (National Review)
Ron DeSantis wants to codify white fragility into law (MSNBC)
Biden’s free Covid test kit rollout is a completely predictable mess (MSNBC)

And that is only yesterday, and I did not go looking at the most radical of sources.

Partisan, negative, depressing, and dangerous.  Bad for the country and bad for Americans’ mental health.  You can rewrite these headlines in your mind to present the same information without either attacking or damning with faint praise.  Why is that not done?

Because negativity sells.  Like the 5-mile backup on the interstate due to a car crash and the bevy of reality shows whose greatest skill is humiliating ‘contestants’  and media photos of blood on the sidewalk and TV’s titillating teasers during ratings week, we cannot stand to miss the gruesome spectacle.  We are drawn, like moths to the light, to the macabre.

We must resist the temptation.  How?  Vote with your eyes, ears, and wallet.  Stop consuming.  Write letters to the editor.  Speak with your friends, family, and colleagues.

If we do not stop to rethink what the divisiveness, hate crimes, partisanship, and the tolerance of lies, misinformation, and blatant prejudice are doing to our country, our politics, our society, then perhaps we do deserve the future that all that will bring.

I, for one, hope the hell not.  And I plan to go down fighting and screaming.

2 thoughts on “I Read The News Today, Oh Boy.

  1. Hear, hear! Only by becoming much more scrupulous and infrequent consumers of broadcast and electronic “news” can we eventually bend the market toward more responsible reporting. Thank you.

  2. I quite agree, Dan. I think the term to describe news today would be “news porn”. And the rules are simple…the more sensational and salacious, the more people will read, the more they read, the more revenue the media outlet acquires. Revenue = good. And, if it’s “working”, they’re going to keep going.

    We can’t expect the media to self-police because they’re self-interested. Sure, we can write letters and stop consuming media, but are we actually going to do that? I’m not. I still want to know what’s going on despite the hyperbolic headlines. I think thoughtful news consumers have learned to parse on the fly, but I suspect that the majority of people don’t (so much).

    I’m afraid the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to the media and news reporting…and unless media barons like Rupert Murdoch (who can pull the editorial strings) have an epiphany a la Alister Sim in The Christmas Carol, I’m not holding my breath. There is something that I have found works well for me – I just consume a lot LESS news content than I used to. It’s helped a lot.

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