Attack of the Megalomaniacal News Media
The mainstream news media have mutated from providing useful information into multi-biased, overbearing, omnipresent purveyors of false, useless information that is critical for them to report and useless for us to receive. This must stop.
In the past, the metaphorical 100 pounds of available fact-based news (as opposed to opinion pieces) was reported through news distribution with a roughly 100-pound news distribution capacity. That is, there was relative equilibrium between “what news you needed to hear” and “what news was reported.” The components of this historical news distribution were:
- Three television stations. Each had about two-and-a-half hours of local news and only a half-hour of national news daily. A handful of weekend news shows (Meet the Press, 60 Minutes, etc.). Also, a few clearly marked “opinion” shows, such as Edward R. Murrow, Eric Sevareid, and others. So, let’s add an hour a day for that.
- Newspapers. You spent maybe one hour leafing through for “news,” along with classifieds, comics, and advertising.
- Magazines. Maybe 70% pictures, 20% advertising, and 10% informative reporting
- Radio. Maybe on your way to and from work for 15 minutes of news a day.
- No internet, no cable channels, no UHF channels, no “social” media, etc.
So, you probably received less than five hours or less of news daily, and that’s if you watched it all. More importantly, few people seemed to be “news starved.”
Journalists practiced journalism. They vetted information and corrected mistakes with full intent to inform. Was there media bias? Some. Were there reporting mistakes? Some.
Image: Family watching television, 1958. Public domain.
For a deeper dive into how news delivery in America has changed, this article is helpful.
So, what happened from then till now?
Maybe Alvin Toffler nailed it in his 1970 book Future Shock:
People of the future may suffer not from an absence of choice but from a paralyzing surfeit of it. They may turn out to be victims of that peculiarly super-industrial dilemma: over choice.
Now, in addition to the five hours of news per day we used to have, we have the following additional “over choices”:
- 24-hour cable news services (MSNBC, CNN, Fox, Newsmax, BBC, etc.).
- Endless online news sites.
- Social media sites that purvey news.
So, using basic economic theory, we can figure out the value of today’s news with a simple calculation: Price (value) = Demand/Supply
When news supply grows exponentially, the value (price) of news plummets as demand has remained much more stagnate. And the real news becomes harder to identify amidst the content that fills the enlarged news supply capacity.
So that leaves us metaphorically having likely the same 100 pounds of news (even if legitimate news has doubled to two hundred pounds) but with 1,000 pounds or more of news distribution capability. So then, how do the excess 800-900 pounds or more of news distribution get occupied? With distortions. Let us count some of these distortions:
1. News commentary in the form of space fillers telling us “what it really means,” usually with bias.
2. News forecasting in the form of space fillers that forecast what will, or might, happen, again usually with bias.
3. Panel discussions from self-ordained “experts” on endless subjects. Does anybody really know what constitutes a “Democrat Strategist” or “Republican Strategist”?
4. Endless interviews of ancillary parties, politicians, and celebrities providing the usual bias.
5. Fake news that results when, having exhausted endless ways to discuss what really happened or might happen, the camera continues to run. The outlets effectively make things up to fill that space with more bias.
6. International news “crises” at thousands of miles distance presented as if the sky is falling here and now.
7. Journalists risking their lives standing on camera in seaside hurricane-force winds to inform us that wind blows during hurricanes. Who would have guessed?
8. 24/7 banners on the cable stations, e.g., Fox insisting there is a continuous stream of important “Alerts” and CNN perpetually hectoring us with “Breaking News.”
Journalistic discipline has no place in this surreal barrage of often biased, often contrived “news.” If they got it wrong—well, that’s just a consequence-free cost of doing business—and, if your message does not fit their biased narrative, they will censor you.
The above dynamics serve to extend to overwhelming proportions the already damaging biases we hear. Biased actors can flood us with even more damaging tactics aimed at controlling our thoughts and influencing our beliefs based on disparate sets of carefully edited, overproduced, often wrong “facts.”
Moreover, we’re very vulnerable to these visual media. Brené Brown accurately said “It’s in our biology to trust what we see with our eyes. This makes living in a carefully edited, overproduced and photoshopped world very dangerous.”
Those born into this current “carefully edited, overproduced and photoshopped” news world might not recognize it as such. However, they would be wise to reconsider what they are viewing.
So, what happens to us under this silly media game they play? For most people, stress. Another problem is ignorance. As Colombian philosopher and critic of modernity Nicolás Gómez Dávila explained, “In an age in which the media broadcast countless pieces of foolishness, the educated man is defined not by what he knows, but by what he doesn’t know.”
We must ensure that “what we know” is not a portion of the “countless pieces of foolishness” the media broadcast. We need to be responsible for identifying and ignoring those “countless pieces of foolishness” so that they were not part of “what we know.”
The challenge of the new world is adapting to a multiplicity of facts. Once, we basically had one set of facts that a few media outlets vetted and reported. The reporting might be subtly biased, but the facts were seldom in dispute.
That world is gone. Our news distribution over-capacity has created a political discourse that is not based on “different opinions” regarding the “same facts” but on “different opinions” based on “different facts.” This creates a much more dangerous, volatile, and passionate discourse that cannot be resolved through reason since the verbal combatants rely on different sets of contrived, unvetted “facts.”
In this world, each individual is responsible for teasing out the real facts from the overwhelming tangle of information before us. We can no longer take what the media says at face value. Instead, we must always do our own research, vetting sources and filtering out the biases. Only then can we be reasonably confident that we are reaching conclusions based on reliable facts.
Is this difficult and time-consuming? Yes. But it is our new responsibility. Reducing our media stress and eliminating useless and incorrect biased news information can only help us.
It’s time to stop falling prey to the news media’s overbearing, self-serving, ever-present, biased, and megalomaniacal game.