Broken News

There is an inordinate amount of hooey in my Facebook feed today, so I think it’s time to take aim at the perpetrators of a majority of the madness in this world.

Frequently we see the words “Breaking News” pop up on the bottoms of our television screens. Well, congrats, media. You’ve done it. The news has been successfully broken.

Some are certainly greater offenders than others. I have started trying to track the more biased or ridiculous sources on the Bad Media page of this website. But it isn’t an exact science. Even the most prejudiced programming often reports actual facts, and some of the more trusted publications will occasionally slip into editorializing. And, of course, with the rise of social media, “news reporting” has become a vague and nebulous term. Memes and sound bites from disreputable sources are shared and spread like intellectual viruses. Excerpts from blogs written by basement-dwelling anarchists in their underwear are posted and re-posted as if they were penned by any sort of expert on a given subject. Most of us know in the back of our brains that not everything we read on the internet is true. But the instinct is to believe. Assertions of fact are innocent until proven guilty, only they rarely get a proper trial.

I don’t expect that much of the community will disagree that what our media (both professional and casual) has become is a disgrace, and that the resulting atrocity has devastating consequences. But even if we can agree that this is a problem, it’s a topic worth discussing. How do we change this aspect of our culture?

Nothing will improve unless we demand it. Authors of the news give us what we want. Currently, we’ve shown that what we want is sensationalism, and language that adds fuel to our tribal fears. It assigns us to teams, and then pits us against one another, because conflict is entertainment.

We need to initiate a shift in our ways of thinking and processing information. Practically everyone I talk to, no matter how much they tend to agree with me on the issues, seems to think they know it all. Not that their brains contain a limitless wealth of information necessarily, but that they’ve got every prickly real-world conundrum down pat. I have some strong opinions, but am I the only one who is continually wracked with doubt? Am I the only one who keeps allowing new information to penetrate my cerebral defenses to consider alternate possibilities, or to give leeway to nuance? My guess is no. My guess is that even most rational, thinking people out there internalize their doubt so that they can continue to vehemently profess their chosen narrative, rather than open themselves up to the vulnerability of self-questioning.

Why? Why the reluctance to admit that all of us are imperfect creatures who are continuously adding 0’s and 1’s to the matrix of our understanding? Why the hesitation to let an opposing viewpoint have an affect on us? Why the refusal to put any bit of incoming data through at least as much rigorous appraisal as we subject to our dining experiences?

This may sound like something of a digression, but I don’t think it is. When we read something, we gobble it up if it supports our preconceived perceptions, and reject as propaganda anything offering a contrary view. We argue combatively, sarcastically, and dismissively. We take issue with others and their absolutely valid opinions, rather than be critical of the manipulative sources that so drastically skewed our respective mindsets by throwing fair reporting tactics out the window, instead attempting to profit from our susceptibility to faith.

We only think and believe the accumulation of all optical and aural input we have accrued over our lifetimes. The world does not consist of billions of stupid people and ourselves. We need to demand truth from organizations that purport to supply us with news, whether or not that truth bolsters our assumptions.

The news media needs to change, and change drastically. But we can’t ask it to do that until we figure out what we want. Do we want to allow comprehensive education and reason to rule our path forward? Or do we want to stick stubbornly to whatever is already ingrained in our minds, information be damned?

Do we want to be right? Or do we want to win?

Join the conversation here.