I remember walking into the office one day in March of 2003, after watching U.S. tanks on CNN the previous night as they rolled into Baghdad. In the days prior we’d been following the news, waiting for this invasion to begin. My co-worker, an intelligent, pragmatic liberal with whom I’d often discussed world events, inquired of me, “How was Gulf War 2”? With an air of flippant enthusiasm I replied “Way better than the original!“
This occurred at the peak of my addiction to “news”, or rather, the info-tainment that passes for news on the web and cable television. In my attempt to “stay informed”, I actually became detached, arrogant and misinformed, believing that the images I saw in the media were the real deal. It was nothing more than a TV show to me.
I don’t mean to suggest that the news outlets deliberately mislead, but their programming is just as scripted as any work of fiction. While the subject matter may be from real life, the method of presentation is carefully chosen with the goal of generating the most revenue. In the end, you’re not necessarily seeing what’s important, but rather what the network deems you are most likely to keep watching, thereby delivering the most eyeballs and eardrums to advertisers (there is no better illustration of this than the story of Natalee Holloway.)
I watched those tanks all night, by the way.
I don’t mean to imply some maliciousness on the part of news organizations, nor am I suggesting that “staying informed” is a bad thing. The danger comes when you start to believe that what you see and read in the news is genuine, unequivocal truth. There is a tendency, when a person believes they know the truth, to become overconfident, even arrogant, in his assessment of things. One must be weary of the natural human tendency to “choose a side”, especially when following politics. I shall long regret some of the things I said to my good buddy Miker in the heat of political debate.
Fortunately, about six months ago, a combination of factors led me to break free of my news addiction. I’ll tell ya, it feels great. I watch from a distance, occasionally tuning in to news outlets to get an overview of what’s going on, and I feel just as “informed” as I was in 2003. The difference is that now I’m not plagued by the arrogance of false certainty.