My Private Political Journals, Vol. 1

I don’t like myself when I’m watching the news. My stomach gets tight. My brain shuts off. All of the sudden the very complex world that I inhabit is made sharp, and boiled down into one point. People with lots of makeup on are talking over each other. Say all the truth, now, in 30 seconds. If it’s a news source I tend to agree with, I am lulled into a kind of stupor of agreeability and not encouraged to explore the issue any further. I am getting the final word, so that’s that. But if I am watching news I tend to disagree with, I am inwardly debating the pundit. I imagine myself on the news in a suit and tie, sparring with them. I go over all the points they are missing and I am like Christopher Hitchens throwing zingers:

Oh, how narrow-minded of you. Have you thought about this?

Or that?

And everybody goes like, wow, wow.

This is a weird inward thought-stream, and one I doubt the news was originally designed to elicit. Maybe I am just weird, but I get the sense from broader culture: particularly the internet and television, that I am not alone. Opinions formed about the world are dearly held, and when they are even immaterially transgressed upon, a defensive mechanism kicks in. We want to defend our turf.

Information should be boring. That is the hint of objectivity—or, if that’s not possible, at least an attempt at objectivity. But news isn’t like that anymore. I am imagining Walter Cronkite in 1960 saying soberly: Dear viewer, a thing has happened.

Now when a thing happens we are immediately given not only the thing itself, but also its interpretation.

A thing has happened and here’s why it’s bad.

Turn the channel:

A thing has happened and here’s why it’s good.

It’s like eating food that has already been chewed, and we are constantly being told that this is the only way it can be done.

Michiko Kakutani said it best in 2006:

We live in a relativistic culture where television ‘reality shows’ are staged or stage-managed, where spin sessions and spin doctors are an accepted part of politics… This relativistic mindset compounds the public cynicism that has hardened in recent years, in the wake of corporate scandals, political corruption scandals and the selling of the war against Iraq on the discredited premise of weapons of mass destruction. And it creates a climate in which concepts like ‘credibility’ and ‘perception’ replace the old ideas of objective truth—a climate in which the efforts of nonfiction writers to be as truthful and accurate as possible give way to shrugs about percentage points of accountability.

Prescient, she was.

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14 thoughts on “My Private Political Journals, Vol. 1

  1. I can relate to your frustration!

    Being informed about any and all current affairs requires the citizen to be willing to read and view multiple sources of information and then weigh all evidence with commonsense and doubt. They must also examine the underlying elements of any story. Most news programmes are infotainment and the source of their information is also suspect. The goal of private broadcasting, especially since the advent of Newscorp, has been to promote inevitability and compliance among the viewership.

    Throughout history, governments and individuals have used the press to manage perceptions and disseminate misinformation. The French were experts in doing so during the Syrian Mandate in a bid to discredit Syrian nationalists. The British often put out articles in foreign newspapers and through their foreign embassies in order to manipulate rival powers. Consider the way that the British fed piles of information to the Spanish and French through their Italian embassies throughout the early modern period – they did so in the knowledge that those embassies were compromised by foreign spies.

    Therefore the citizen’s sole defense is to think independently, a task made increasingly difficult by corporate media.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The news is also increasing like this: A thing might happen. Or: We think a thing might happen, and here’s why it would be bad if it did. Or: We think somebody is thinking about making a thing happen, and here’s why it would be good and also why it would be bad.

    Like

  3. So much news is about filling up space, it ends up being comments on things that have, or might be, happening. This does not help with news-related angst at all. The tricky path between being informed and not wanting to hide in a hole because the world is such a horrible place…

    Like

  4. I came by to thank you for the like and got sucked in. Sorry if this is scattered.

    I learned how short the news cycle actually is after 5 people were shot and killed at my university before the attacker turned the gun on himself. There were helicopters swarming over the campus like flies over piles of garbage. It was EVERYWHERE, for about a week. Then yet another bad thing happened, as they do, and we were erased.

    I believe a free press is essential.

    It infuriates me that the general public is more willing to believe in worldwide conspiracies than objective evidence directly in front of them. They are unable to acknowledge either that it may be the result of their own actions, or, that sometimes crap just happens.

    That was bit more visceral than I intended. Thankfully I saw the John Sudano post first. I will go laugh now.

    Liked by 1 person

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