Do We Even Need News Media Anymore?

Last Tuesday (January 24th), I watched Sean Spicer’s entire press conference, unfiltered, on Periscope.tv. It lasted forty-four minutes and thirty seconds. There were 37 questions asked that covered nearly as many topics. A sampling of those topics includes the ACA, NAFTA, the Keystone pipeline, Israel, a shield law for journalists, race relations, NATO, potential supreme court nominee, and planned meetings with Congressional caucuses.

If, instead of watching the press conference, you watched the news that afternoon or evening, or if you watched your Facebook newsfeed that day, all you heard about was President Trump’s comment made during the presidential campaign regarding voter fraud. Forty-four minutes, thirty-seven questions, and more than twenty topics, yet all the media pushed was ‘voter fraud.’ This is how the media ever so subtly begins to divide people and pushes an agenda – their agenda.

Those of us who watched that press conference also noticed that an agenda was being pushed by the reporters themselves. Of the 37 questions asked, six concerned the voter fraud comment. Even though Spicer answered the first question about it, reporters weren’t satisfied. Five more insisted on asking the same question—and I do mean the same question. Spicer calmly and professionally answered the question all six times the question was asked, giving all the information a person could have possibly given each time. Clearly, it wasn’t just the news organizations that wanted the press conference filtered down to one topic. The reporters present decided that they wanted the story to be ‘voter fraud.’ The reporters decided that rather than tell the whole story of the press conference, they would push one topic – and it would be one of their choosing.

Likewise, I watched the inauguration on C-Span. There was no commentary from hosts, just the raw footage of all the events of that day. There was no one with a camera and microphone telling viewers what or how to think or view the events. C-Span simply let the events unfold. What made it even better was the viewer’s ability to hear the chatter among the people present on the stage – political friends and rivals greeting each other and sharing some small talk. C-Span respected its viewers enough to allow them to make their own judgments about the events unfolding before them. To fill some air time, a host aired calls from viewers, but never interfered or challenged them. The question was simply, “Do you support President Trump or not?” Callers gave their view and the host simply said, ‘thank you’ and took the next call.

In this golden age of access to information – at its source, organic, and unfiltered – why do we still rely on news organizations that are biased (present on each side of the political aisle) and determined to jam a day’s worth of information into one-minute sound bites? Why have it edited and packaged by someone or group that will infuse it with his/her/their own bias and agenda? We can all go right to the source and we can all have a common starting point rather than coming to discussions on events and policy with prepackaged information that includes a bias?

Don’t get me wrong. I am in no way advocating for the elimination of the fourth estate. We need investigative journalists. We need those watchmen and women to keep those in power in check. For the most part, though, in recent decades, they have failed us. They no longer report the news. They make the news, determining an outcome before getting the full story or putting their own political views and leanings above the objective truth. Worse, even those stories get further diluted and distorted in order to fit them into sound bites for the attention-deficit population at large and in between the commercial breaks. It does not serve us well and we no longer need the news programs of ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, etc. Their time has passed.

Perhaps it’s time to finally confront the 800 pound gorilla in the room and admit the ‘objective journalist’ is and always has been nothing but a mythical creature, no more real than the tooth fairy and unicorns. No human being is without bias, no matter how much one protests to the contrary. Each of us take with us into each of our daily encounters, discussions, jobs, and education the sum of all of our learning, experiences, and opinions up to that point. Unfortunately, we also take our pride with us, as well. That may be the worst of all companions, for it is that one that is the obstinate guardian at the gates of learning. Pride is the end of learning and if allowed to rule the roost of our emotions, will prevent us from reading or learning from the research, thoughts, and ideas from those from the opposite side of the argument. That’s bad enough for us as consumers of information. It is a disqualifying trait for a journalist.

We also can no longer accept factually wrong stories or fake news to be swept under the rug with unapologetic and half-hearted retraction. The average person pays little attention to the retraction and, to keep feeding their pride and hope in the initial fake/factually incorrect story, burn into their minds the original story, cementing it into their subconscious as fact the next time they’re in the voting booth. I still have ill-informed people puking debunked stories into my Facebook newsfeed – the seven countries chosen by Trump are because of business ties, the cabinet wasn’t briefed on the immigration executive order, etc. The originators of the fake story accomplished its goal of planting the seed in the gullible minds. Pay no attention to that retraction behind the curtain.

If, then, we are ready to admit that objective journalism is an impossibility, it is incumbent upon each of us to be more vigilant in pursuit of knowledge, the truth, and the best possible solutions. To accept that truth means we will need to seek information beyond our favorite places. In effect, we are committing to becoming our own investigative journalist. Are you ready to look at situations from different angles? Are you humble enough to accept that you just might learn something from the other side?

You will not be alone or without resources in your pursuit of the whole truth. When it comes to bigger policy discussions, there are great resources available that provide excellent research and white papers – in other words, they’ve done all the Googling and so much more for you. Granted, they will have a bias, but the thoughtful person will go to multiple resources and gather information from the liberal, conservative, and libertarian perspectives before offering an argument. Plus, each will provide a far more in-depth analysis of the subject matter.

Here are the most popular think tanks:

Liberal:
Center for American Progress: www.americanprogress.org
Center for Budget & Policy: www.cbpp.org
Human Rights Watch: www.hrw.org

Conservative:
The Heritage Foundation: www.heritage.org
The Hoover Institution: www.hoover.org
American Enterprise Institute: www.aei.org

Libertarian:
The Cato Institute: www.cato.org
The Reason Foundation: www.reason.org

Each of the above has its own YouTube channel, as well, if you prefer viewing to reading.

If we all just cocoon ourselves in our own politically comfortable echo chambers, we will never grow beyond our own self-imposed intellectual limitations, nor will we ever develop empathy for those who disagree with us or their positions. We will also limit ourselves as a society to nothing more than an endless series of building up and tearing down as political winds and majorities shift, never really advancing along the way. Rather than say to yourself, ‘How could they possibly think that way?’ read what their best researchers are putting forth and find out the ‘how’ and the ‘why.’ If you are too afraid to do that – too afraid that what you see may cause you to doubt your own position – that may very well be a good thing. Perhaps your position isn’t as well founded as you believe.

Though since debunked, I believe the basic tenets of the theory of right-brain, left-brain driving personality and problem-solving are true. There are those of us that lead with cold logic and facts and those that lead with the heart and compassion. We must realize that the best answers and solutions come from a melding of the two. Just as in marriage between a man and woman, each bringing to the table their own qualities, it is the sum total that becomes more powerful than the parts. The joint decisions, the joint planning, the joint desires are better, more powerful and more capable of moving the marriage and its participants to a better place. We need to demand that of ourselves and our elected officials.

Here’s to the hope that we can elevate the conversation.

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