It used to be a routine. Read the paper in the morning. Sundays were the best. A full three pounds of newsprint (I still remember delivering those big boys on my bike as a little kid). Hours of reading. Plenty of longer form content, opinion pieces, the comics, Parade magazine, sports. Evenings was a half hour of local news (mostly watched for the weather), followed by an hour of a “serious” evening news program so you’d know what happened in the world. If you were a real news junkie, you’d subscribe to at least a few other national newspapers as well as some monthly magazines. Throw in a few publications like Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Powder Magazine (Ski Magazine wasn’t cool enough) so you could be hip, and boom – you’re reasonably in touch with the world.
Then came CNN. 24 hours of news? Who in the world would watch that? I distinctly remember watching Bernard Shaw reporting from Iraq at the start of the first gulf war. Wow. We were seeing war in real-time. What the news industry could morph into was mind-blowing and exciting. Fast forward to today and 95% of all news media, video and print, is now basically a news version of the early Maury Povich or Morton Downey Jr. trash TV shows.
The point of “news” today is to generate clicks, likes, and engagement. Like Maury Povich’s “who’s the daddy” segments, the point is to get that gasp or cheer from the audience. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not as long as you capture the eyeballs. Turn on any of the alphabet news channels and you’ll see one of two formats. The most popular is to give a twenty second intro, to a hopefully controversial topic, and then turn to a panel of media personalities that yell at each other. Your other option is a thirty second description of a story, then bring on an “expert” calling in via Zoom from their living room and give them twenty seconds to babble before cutting them off. Whoo hoo, journalism bitches!
It is becoming exceedingly rare for me to watch any sort of news channel. It’s pointless. Not only for the aforementioned trash TV format, but because I’ve already read or watched anything news related that day via Twitter. Twitter, as Elon has said, truly has become the public square for information. Anything that happens in the world shows up on Twitter long before the mainstream media outlets begin reporting on it. Want long form opinion? It seems everyone with a pulse now has a Substack or podcast. I can read opinions on any subject under the sun.
The beauty of Twitter? I get to curate what I see and have the freedom to decide what I think is truth, opinion, or tin-foil-hat conspiracy. If you are sad enough to only consume CNN… you get a slick used car salesman, Joy Behar version of the news.
So, here’s the million-dollar question. Is the media doing it because that’s what they think we want, or have we truly become that dumb? Have we reached the start of the Idiocracy era? I’m not naive enough to think the early versions of the news I grew up with didn’t have an agenda. Government absolutely attempted to influence the nightly narrative we were fed by Walter Cronkrite. But at least back then, they had to tread somewhat lightly… people still practiced journalism from time to time. Today, the government has an actual private pipeline to all the social media platforms (as revealed by the Twitter file dumps).
My gut feeling? We (the US) have become that dumb. We all want nothing more than to be Instagram influencers, buy cheap shit from Amazon, and binge the latest celebrity expose series on Netflix. If the government tells us we all need to subscribe to a national digital ID, well super! It will make everyday life so much easier. Just make sure I know what the latest thing is, so I can post my solidarity flag on Facebook.
Clearly, I’m feeling a bit cynical today. But for good reason. The crash is coming. Deglobalization is happening, and the Ukraine conflict will produce ripple effects in oil prices, energy scarcity, fertilizer supply, and food prices that are going to hurt. Very quickly, everything that comes from someplace else… is going to be harder to get and more expensive. Oh, Don Lemon isn’t talking about this on CNN? Hmm. The gap between the haves and have-nots in this country is going to accelerate rapidly. Throw in a non-stop media barrage of racial division and, well, you get unrest. People who can’t afford to buy eggs or fill up their cars will want to vent their anger towards someone. And when you split the country like we are now… whoever the other side is a perfect target.
Or maybe not. Maybe we’ll defeat Putin (whatever that means). Everyone will have an electric vehicle. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion rules will solve all those pesky social issues. We’ll tax the rich enough to solve our budget and inflation problems. We’ll finally get around to replacing the police with conflict therapists. AI will free us from the mundane of day-to-day jobs. Peace. Love. Harmony.
Or, become a Contrarian. Question everything. Become ungovernable. Oh, and prepare. You’ve been forewarned.