Early in my career in government (thirty-six years in total), my bosses sent several of us young executives to an intensive training class on how to deal with the media. One lesson from this course still resonates with me today. It was presented to us in the form of a metaphor to help illustrate how news outlets decide whether to report on a story.
“When a dog bites a man” said the instructor, “there is no story. There is nothing compelling enough about a dog biting a man for a media source to take their limited time or print space to report it. However, if a man bites a dog, that’s different. People will pay attention to this story because they don’t see something like that every day.”
It seems to me that this accurately represents how the media, specially television media, presents information to us today. It is not right to define our society by the foibles and abnormalities of the exception, yet, this is what the media does and why they are failing us and undermining our democracy.
Curiosity killed the cat
Marketers know the unusual sells. They arouse our curiosity because they know it will open the door to feelings they can manipulate. They appeal to our hopes, fears, lust (sex sells!), as well as the need to belong and be liked. In this same way, we are being manipulated by how they give us the news. They report stories in a way that is weirdly or horrifically interesting, like a bad car accident, to motivate us to keep coming back and stay tuned in. This has become a never-ending cycle that we return to hour after hour and day after day to satisfy our curiosity with the latest most bizarre details.
A free press is necessary for a healthy democracy to function, but our press is not free, corporations own it and they work to get us to stay tuned in so that their sponsors can sell us paper towels, cars, medicine for erectile disfunction, etc. But while our curiosity and thirst for the unusual keeps us tuning in, our democracy is decaying.
I don’t watch the news anymore
Today it is hard to attain any kind of objectivity when one can customize the information one gets to fit our point of view. News sources from the right or the left use our desire for the “right” perspective to grow their base of followers.
Although I still try to stay informed peripherally about world effects, I have stopped watching the news. This may seem strange to hear from someone who was involved in governing and politics for most of my career, but I have my reasons. The way both the media and our leaders deliver information to us is useless. It is not informative; it is a manipulation of the highest order. This does not differ from how negative political adds use hyperbole and half-truths to get us to hate the candidate from the other side. This is destroying our sense of unity because it drives a wedge between us.
A higher purpose
There is a higher consciousness that is part of every person. This spirit connects us regardless of our experiences, status, power, ideas, gender, etc. It inspires us to evolve together into a higher consciousness so we may create a greater good. While there may be bad things happening in this world, everyone has redeeming qualities. The person you abhor the most is as connected to you as those whom you identify with. A higher power created us unique, so people who are different from us are not deplorable. Like you, they are an amalgamation of their experiences. They deserve our respect and not to be vilified or paraded like they are circus freaks.
Where do we begin?
To every network, newspaper and magazine I say, stop being the mouthpiece for one political ideology or another. Stop airing political commercials slanderous with lies and exaggerations. Discontinue your fascination with reporting the most outlandish event or focusing on the latest statement mean to distract us from the important issues. Help us identify the issues we should rally around so we can work together to create greater communities, nations and world.
It used to be that TV networks used to air unbiased news as a public service even though this was a loss leader for them. Newscasters didn’t spin or try to manipulate us with it. They didn’t accuse or blame one party or another for this or that; they concentrated on making us a more informed public by sharing the issues that were affecting our country and required our attention. That changed with the corporatization of the news.
In order for us to conquer our divide, we need to move forward with the older, wiser goals in mind. People need information that will inspire them to work together on common issues, we need not be prodded like cattle so we can tune in and be sold more shit we don’t need.
We often talk about capitalism and democracy as though they are the same thing, but they are not. The belief that there is a common good that is far greater than just making money is what fuels a healthy democracy. Our media leaders report the news relying on the basic goodness and kindness that is overwhelmingly the virtue most human beings display rather than act as though it doesn’t exist.
Going through a difficult life transition?
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