We tune into the news to find out what’s going on in the world around us. Even by tuning in all day every day, there is more than anyone can keep up with; in fact, it’s overwhelming. I’ve talked with many people who take a vacation from the news because they have gotten saturated beyond what they consider healthy. Many even use the word addiction.
Not only do we learn from the news what’s going on in the world around us, the news is taking an increasing interest in us—the consumer/citizen. At one time news of us—what we think, feel, and believe about national and world events—was sprinkled among the real news, but now it seems we are the news. The latest phenomenon is news reports entirely about us: “Fifty-one percent of Americans believe…twenty-seven percent of Republicans think…men between the ages of twenty-eight and forty-seven…” This has become the news. If it stopped there, it would be one thing, but it doesn’t because we also have the pundits being interviewed about us and what we think, feel, and believe and many of us are actually interviewed or asked to call in to share our views with the other listeners or viewers.
I’m leaning toward a cynicism here that makes me uncomfortable. This is a democracy after all, we need to hear from the citizenry, and we value freedom of speech. What people think, feel, and believe is relevant and important but we’re in trouble when it continually supplants hard core news. And that’s where we seem to be now, out of balance with the news itself more background to the percentages of what we the people think, feel, and believe.
If our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are opposed to the facts, then we are headed down a dangerous path where we mutually reinforce misguided opinion and mistruths. Listening to us express our views under these circumstances gives more momentum to falsehoods.
The media is failing us in their lack of depth in reporting. They report the numbers and trends but don’t get behind those numbers with facts to tell the real story. “Sixty-one percent of Americans believe…and they are wrong because…” We’re not going to get that story because the news media believes that they must report both sides of the story so we can decide for ourselves where the truth is. But if they don’t report the facts, where does that leave us? Doing our own research and how realistic is that?
I believe the news media is afraid of being called biased. Of course, they must be scrupulous to avoid real bias, but they’ve gone too far. It is rare to hear an interviewer challenge a politician based on real facts or engage in a lively discussion challenging ideas. Surely this isn’t out of bounds in modern journalism, though it has become a rare commodity.
Unfortunately, we cannot count on politicians to consistently tell the truth. The media must help us hold our leaders accountable. This is an essential function of journalism in our democratic society. We need an active, engaged and fearless media. Where are they?