I’m currently living in Tucson, Arizona. Everyone who lives here knows all about Interstate 19, which is a relatively short leg of Interstate highway that goes from the southern part of Tucson and empties out in Nogales, Arizona, which is on the border with Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. The fact that it’s the fourth-shortest main highway in the Interstate system is not what makes the highway notable, however, but the fact that it’s the only highway in the United States that is signed using the metric system. I know it’s hard to believe, but there was a time in the early 1970s when there was actually a push to switch the country to the metric system, like pretty much every other industrialized nation on Earth. Instead, “the people” pushed back and they demanded that nothing change and that we all stick with systems of measurement that make no real sense. It is estimated that using the archaic systems we currently use costs our economy tens of billions of dollars every year, but hey, it’s traditional, so why should we ever change.? Right?
There is always a cost to sticking with tradition rather than changing to something proven to work. I started thinking about this yesterday, as I was discussing how backward we Americans are about how media works. For a great many years, we had access to very few news sources, and we basically got whatever news someone threw right in our faces. Think about it; if you grew up before the 1990s, most of us had access to one or two daily newspapers, and most had one delivered every day. There were three local TV stations that did some news and local radio stations had about five minutes of news every hour. There were about 3-4 weekly news magazines available on the newsstand and many cities had a weekly “alternative” newspaper. That was about the extent of it. The availability of news was incredibly limited.
Compare that to now. Now, anyone with broadband access and/or a computer, smartphone or tablet has access to thousands of news sources. The only difference is, these days, we’re not hit in the face with news; we have to go seek it out. We don’t have the “paper boy” coming to our door once a month to collect a few bucks to pay for the news he’s delivered to our doorstep. Most people have cable with 500 or more available, so they never, ever have to be subjected to news unless we seek it out. Our greatest sources of news are on social media and they use algorithms that only show us “news” based on what we click on or what we talk about with others. The dawn of the Internet created the “news bubble,” in which we only see news that we want to see, from the point of view that we share, and that is only getting worse with the dawn of the social media algorithm. So, why am I bringing this up?
I bring it up because I’m sick and tired of everyone blaming “the media” for what we perceive as a “lack of information” among our populace. There is no lack of information at all. And yes, there are a ton of problems with our news media, as this blog has pointed out many times. But there’s another problem.
Once more, I feel that I have to quote Pogo.
This is such an apt quote for so many things when it comes to progressives and people in general, but never is it more apt than when it comes to information consumption. Not a day goes by in which someone on social media or even in my personal life doesn’t comment on just how horrible “the media” is. There’s a lot about it on this blog at times. As I said, I lament the loss of journalism as much as anyone. Fox News is nothing more than a propaganda arm of the RNC. CNN is desperate for ratings, so they operate under the delusion that mimicking Fox News will get them eyeballs, without apparently realizing that they will never peel off Fox viewers because Fox is much like a cult, in that people watch it because they have to. They watch it because it feeds into their self-worth. It’s much like the RNC thinking they can oppose Donald Drumpf on the issues. That’s cute, but in practice, it’s not realistic.
But here’s the thing, folks; as is the case with pretty much everything, we can blame “the media” for everything and demand that they change, which is unlikely to ever happen, or we can take responsibility for our own information consumption and do everything we can to make ourselves better informed. I know, it’s easier to shout at the bad people and demand that they conform to your vision, but either we need more information or we don’t and we don’t get anything that way. When it comes to information, quality is more important than quantity. If you consider yourself a “news junkie” or a “political junkie” and think that makes you sound smarter, think again. Information is like food. You can scream at McDonald’s and blame them for your being too fat, but that’s not reality. In the real world, McDonald’s food doesn’t make you fat; eating too much of it does that. Likewise, drinking alcohol isn’t bad for you, if you stop at one beer or glass of wine occasionally. Drinking enough to make you sick and doing so habitually is a problem. My grandmother lived to be almost 87 and she smoked too much and drank a glass of wine everyday, while my mom stopped smoking ten years before she died and almost never drank, but she didn’t make 70. Nothing is that certain and nothing has that direct a correlation to disaster.
Information consumption is no different. What makes loyal Fox viewers such complete dipshits isn’t that they check in to Fox once a day for a half hour to an hour. What turns them into dipshits is that they can’t turn away from Fox News, except maybe to listen to Rush middays. They consume “news” like that because it reinforces what they already believe and they need that desperately. It’s how humans work. It’s really easy to see something we believe online and then pass it on to everyone else as if it’s true. Unfortunately, these days the phenomenon is no longer unique to moronic right wingers. In just the last few days, I must have seen the “story” about how much money Hillary Clinton gets from the “fossil fuel” industry 100 times or more on various social media and let me assure you, it’s complete and utter horseshit. (By the way, so is her alleged fealty to Monsanto and Walmart. Just saying…) The actual amount, according to OpenSecrets and the FEC, is $300,000, which really is a drop in the proverbial bucket, especially since the number is compiled from individuals who simply work in the industry. Unfortunately, some people who passed the story on without checking. I know they didn’t check because some of their postings used numbers ranging as high as $3.5 million. And, of course, they had to add implications to the mix, to reinforce their basic premise, that Hillary is a horrible liar and she would be “in the pocket of the oil and gas industry” A lot of these people even tried to claim that , as Secretary of State, she had promoted fracking all over the world, which is ludicrous. That’s not what a Secretary of State does, people. And even if she had “promoted” it, world leaders are free to decide not to do it. Who imagines that the leader of one of our allies thinks, “Hillary Clinton suggested fracking, so we’d better do it.”?
Anyway, the story was just complete crap, as anyone who actually searched for the truth for two minutes could have found out very easily. The total amount she received from the oil and gas industry was about $300,000 and all of it came from individuals and PACs supporting her candidacy. As a percentage of the total amount she has raised so far, it’s about half of one percent, and it will be an even smaller amount when all is said and done, and she raises the $1 billion she will have to raise if she wants to win at all.
That brings up another problem that many “news junkies” and “political junkies” have; a tendency to see everything in black and white, binary terms. Issue X is bad, so everything having to do with X is always bad. You decide fracking is bad, so every single incidence of fracking is necessarily bad, which is absurd. We essentially fracked the desert in Nevada to store spent fuel rods for nukes, and if we hadn’t done that, where would we put that poisonous crap? And if we were limiting fracking to extremely remote areas, like the Siberian region of Russia, where there are no people, would that really be so horrible? I don’t know. It might still be bad, but I don’t know that it would be. And that’s the point. There is very little that is always bad.
Likewise, everything they like is good, so everything having to do with that also has to be good. For example, Citizens United is horrible law, but that doesn’t mean everything having to do with money in politics is automatically bad. These are two separate issues. What Bernie AND Hillary are doing this year and what Barack Obama did in the last two elections, in which they raised most of their money from individual donors is actually good for democracy. The bad thing is the PACs and their unlimited spending and advocacy. The problem isn’t the amount of money in politics, but rather, where some of it comes from. Think about it; in the end, Hillary will need to raise $1 billion, which is bad because she shouldn’t have to raise that much, but there is a good side. Even if the oil and gas industry was giving her $3.5 million, that amount is such a small speck in the big pond, there’s no way they could make demands.
But I digress. As news consumers, we have to take some of the responsibility for what’s going wrong with news.
By only exposing themselves only to Fox or only listening to what some uncle or co-worker who spends all of his time watching Fox, they are not becoming smarter. I think that’s clear I you watch the de-evolution of the GOP over the last generation or so. What seems to be less clear to people is that the same principle works for anyone. I know it’s tempting to only watch, read or listen to news and points of view you already agree with, but too many of us have fallen into that trap. This blog used to have a blog roll, which was a list of blogs with a point of view much like this one, so that you could get more information. About two years ago, I did away with it because I don’t think it’s a good idea for people to limit their news sources to like-minded people. Well, that and I was annoyed at how much pure click-bait there is among far left blogs. Sticking with or own not only makes us out of touch with what most people think, but it creates a bubble that taints the quality of our information. If you don’t believe me, check your social media feeds and look at how many of your “friends” repeat bullshit from “Daily News Bin” (pro-Hillary propaganda) and “US Uncut” (pro-Bernie propaganda). Almost nothing they post is strictly true, and yet, there are many who simply pass that crap on, without even investigating.
This blog tries hard to be different. One thing you rarely see on here are stories about individual personalities. You also pretty One thing you Rarely see on this blog is a definitive statement about “what people think.” I can tell you what most people don’t think about much; that’s for sure. For example, I can tell you that the average person isn’t obsessing over “income inequality.” I know this because most people care most about their own life and they don’t obsess over what other people are doing, like most hardcore far lefties and far righties do. They also don’t want things for “free.” I mean, have you even met America? This is a country where, if a poor person is in line at the supermarket with a SNAP card, they are embarrassed to pull it out and use it because they know everyone else in line is judging them. The so-called “American Dream” is all about believing that you get there by “hard work,” not by winning the lottery. Are there some delusional people spending hundreds on lottery tickets? Sure, but most people rarely buy one and no one thinks they’re going to win.
What I’m saying is this; if you purposely create an information bubble for yourself, where you only read/watch/listen to programs and people that essentially see things from the same basic point of view as you do, your assumptions about what “everyone thinks” will probably be wrong. And don’t blame it on “the media.” We all have access to thousands of news and information sources and we also have access to the means to verify the veracity of what we consume; there is simply no excuse for passing on bullshit these days. We all do it; I have a few times, although I’ve been burned enough times to check everything I see these days. But if you do it repeatedly, don’t blame it on “the media,: blame yourself.
Ultimately, when it comes to information consumption, we make the choices, not “the media.” First of all, there is no monolithic entity called “the mainstream media.” There are thousands of choices for information, and they all work independently. I know, I know… Many of them are owned by a scant few companies, but except for making money, there is no mandate from corporate executives regarding content. If you think Gannett orders every one of their newspapers and other media outlets to say the same things about Hillary or Drumpf, you’re living in a fantasy world. Hell, even News Corp has different rules, depending on which country they’re in.
I mean, have you ever worked for a large entity? I used to work with one of the largest law firms in the country, which isn’t even as big as, say, working for Walmart, and the management of that firm had no idea what was going on in its various offices. Getting highlighters to our office became such a chore that I used to walk several blocks to Staples to get them because it was inefficient. It’s highly unlikely that the management of a news company that owns hundreds of stations and newspapers and news sites is scanning every single one to make sure they toe the company line. And even if they do, there are plenty of other sources available to check them, anyway. And that is your job as a news consumer. It’s not your job to force the news sources you use to change to fit your model; it’s up to you to make sure the information you’re passing along is correct. Not Rachel Maddow’s, or Sean Hannity’s, or even CNN’s, but yours. The information you pass on is very important, and you need to be telling the truth.