It’s been happening for years: the delivery of infotainment in place of real news. I realize that most of us want infotainment, which is why we get it, but a few of us would like to be notified of important events in the world rather than stories about puppies being reunited with their masters or kids selling lemonade for some charity.
Yes, in some ways, those stories qualify as news, and it’s uplifting to learn about things going on in the world that aren’t completely depressing. But here’s the problem: while we focus on these light-hearted stories, we’re not learning about all the terrible things going on in the world.
I don’t want to be depressed, you say. I don’t care about terrorists in the Middle East or yet another study showing the planet warming due to human activity. My job and my life are stressful enough that I just want to relax and watch something positive. Plus, seeing these feel-good stories has value. The stories motivate me to want to do good too. So why can’t we just keep doing what we’re doing?
Well, we can. But if we do, then we’ll miss out on certain intractable problems we know little about, like how defense contractors and Wall Street and Silicon Valley game the political system to advance their agendas and keep the rest of us down.
We know all that, you say. It’s rigged. There’s nothing we can do about it, so why watch another boring story about complex administrative maneuverings that we can’t fix?
Maybe because the only way we can rise up and put pressure on our leaders to follow the will of the people and not the will of the large corporations is by being informed of the sneaky tactics these oligarchs employ.
Many large corporations say we don’t have a problem with climate change because they want us to continue the status quo. Or they say they’re doing all they can to combat it by being more fuel-efficient, so don’t blame them – they’re just providing services we want. And defense contractors don’t want to stop the violence in the Middle East because then they might not make as much money. I’m not saying all employees with these companies have interests antithetical to ours, but the people at the very top do.
Consider our defense budget. We no longer have the Cold War, we’re not fighting in WWII or Vietnam or even Iraq or Afghanistan to the same level as in the past, and yet we still spend hundreds of billions “defending ourselves” against enemies we often created by our aggressive, attack-first, ask-questions-later foreign policy.
Don’t believe me? Look at Iraq. Why did we invade that country? Because we wanted to. We wanted to show the world how tough we were. Everyone in the intelligence community who wasn’t a shill or a moron knew Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with attacking us. But the military apologists screamed at us until we panicked and rushed into this ridiculous war.
The media mostly ignored the hard truths (at our behest), and gave us infotainment. Most of the hard-hitting investigative journalists have been fired (downsized) because it costs too much money to conduct serious journalism these days.
You see, we need a new story to run every few hours to keep up with the 24/7 news cycle we created. You can’t do an in-depth piece on government corruption that requires weeks or months of work when we have to get that puppy story posted to the website by 11am. And we can’t afford to hire real investigative journalists to do in-depth pieces that most of us won’t watch.
We may never return to the glory days of Woodward and Bernstein but it would be nice to get at least the occasional serious story that reminds us we have work to do if we want to make the world a better place.
But we have to want it. We have to demand better news coverage by voting with our eyeballs. We have to ignore stories about Kardashians and Taylor Swift and Fantasy Football and March Madness and turn our attention to real issues. If we don’t, we’ll continue to be fed pablum.
Yes, it’s often depressing to watch real news, but if it’s reported well, identifying not only problems but also possible solutions, it can be inspiring as well. Here’s hoping that the new year will bring some real news in place of infotainment.
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