It Might Not Be Fake News, But It Sure Is Stupid
I’m just old enough to remember the days of Walter Cronkite serving as the anchorman of the CBS Evening News. His nightly sign off wasn’t sexy and stylish, but it was effective. After each program, he would simply say, “And that’s the way it is,” thus suggesting to all of his viewers that what they had just watched was truth- objective, thoroughly-researched truth. You see, back in those days the news was a nightly recitation of the day’s events, an accounting that relied on facts and information rather than opinion. Each night, Americans would huddle around their television sets to keep themselves informed regarding the world around them, and the network news outlets would provide a no-nonsense, unbiased approach that eschewed partisan politics. To this day, long after his death, I have no idea what party Cronkite affiliated himself with or who he had ever voted for. That was part of his job- to leave his personal ideology checked at the door and to present the news with a seriousness of purpose that emanated from his commitment to the American public. Unfortunately, those bygone days seem so very, very long ago.
Gone are the days when news was provided without slant by each of the three major networks. These days, it is hard not to recognze the blatant skew each network has in presenting their own perspective on the day’s news. Sure, FOX and MSNBC are overt in their bias, but I was watching CNN the other day and had to acknowledge the clear anti-Trump bias present in their reporting. Yes, there’s a case to be made that truth (and exposing Trump’s refusal to engage in it) is itself against Trump beyond just personal politics. But CNN has fallen into the trap of merely focusing on the one side of the story rather than presenting both sides and letting an informed viewer draw their own conclusions. And most of the other networks are much of the same. Our news reporting no longer trusts the audience to properly sift through and evaluate the reporting of facts for themselves.
Which is not to say that I am suggesting that we are dealing with fake news. The only news organization that I have seen be guilty of repeated and willful rejection of the truth in order to bolster their own agenda is FOX News, and if you are one of the folks who get your news there and really believe that they are, as their motto suggests “fair and balanced”, well, I have a bridge for sale near Brooklyn you might just be interested in. No, I don’t believe that the news being presented by the major news networks is fake; I just believe it is stupid.
Even more disconcerting than the patently obvious bias that has made its way into the news is its increasing reliance on stories that meet the threshold for the lowest common denominator. Instead of grappling with each of the significant issues that Americans needed to understand in order to properly represent their opinion in an educated citizenry, news channels now go over the stories that will draw our attention, and let’s face it, we are like a bunch of spider monkeys drawn to the biggest, shiniest bananas. Instead of providing in-depth analysis of complicated global conflicts, like they used to do back in Cronkite’s era, the news channels just give us more regurgitated crap about Trump or overly hyped celebrities because they know this is what we want. We don’t want to have to think about the complex web of global interdependence- that’s way too hard. No, what we really want, even when watching the news that is supposed to be informing us, is to be entertained.
This dramatic change in the way we receive our news is a direct result of the seismic shift in how news is handled and funded within the governing bodies of the television networks themselves. Back in Cronkite’s day, news programs were understood to be loss leaders, programs that operated on the basis of a financial loss with the premise that in addition to bolstering the network’s reputability, it was also an essential community service to provide a thoughtful and unbiased accounting of the day’s events in order to cultivate an informed American public. Those days, however, are long gone.
With the advent and rise of cable television came the invention of cable news networks (CNN and others), 24 hour a day news sources that had to justify their existence and pay their bills by generating a profit rather than rendering a community service. With more than just the three major networks to tune into, the American public began to look elsewhere for its information. These outlets, driven by profit rather than mission, appealed to our desire not so much for hard news and impartial perspective but instead for entertainment masquerading as news. The result was that we were diverted from actual information, placated instead by sound bytes and talking points.
And so our age has become one not so much of fake news, as those who might be held accountable by the truth generated by hard research of the facts might try to suggest, but rather of stupid news, a compendium of trivial events and narcissistic isolationism. As such, we fail to understand the larger community around us and the global impact our actions have in an ever-increasing world of interdependence. We are not so much misinformed as under informed. This only serves to undermine our democracy by leaving us vastly unknowledgeable about the key issues of the day and by heightening the tension created by our partisan perspectives. I wish I could suggest otherwise, but I’m afraid, “That’s the way it is.”
Beloved readers- a quick announcement from TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less: Starting next week, TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less will be moving to publishing monthly instead of weekly. You will be able to find TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less at all of your favorite places (Medium, Facebook, www.waitingfortoday.com) on the first Thursday of every month starting in June 2018. Thanks as always for your continued love and support!
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less the first THURSDAY of every month at www.waitingfortoday.com