I don’t watch cable news anymore. In fact, I haven’t for a long time. I’m also skeptical of anything I see on social media purporting to be news that doesn’t have a source or is from a source I don’t recognize.
I wasn’t happy with the results of the 2016 election. I know a lot of people, especially in West Virginia, were. That’s fine. Really, it is.
But I found, while watching cable news most people would consider liberal, that they began engaging in what I viewed as wish fulfillment. It was telling me what I wanted to hear, and making me angry by hammering home everything that was wrong with President Donald Trump. It’s a long list, and maybe some of it is justified, but going back to that well again and again wasn’t healthy for me. All of that righteous anger didn’t change anything. Of course, conservative media does the same thing, and that rage tap they’ve honed is powerful.
A relative was staying with us not too long ago and was watching Fox News in our living room. I was a bit unnerved by the alarmist rhetoric, the constant stoking of fear and painting those on the other side of the aisle as not just wrong, but evil — I mean, they actually used the word “evil.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised. It wasn’t that long ago that West Virginia GOP Chairwoman Melody Potter called Democrats “Godless” during an interview on West Virginia MetroNews. Public discourse took a turn for the worse a long time ago, but when you haven’t been exposed to it for a while, it can be a bit unsettling.
Anyway, I soon grasped that most of these shows follow a particular format. The host has a panel in those Brady Bunch boxes on the screen, and they’re all there to affirm the narrative on different points. Except, that is, for the heel.
There’s at least one person they bring on who purports to be on the opposite side of the political spectrum, and that person is there to take a beating. They’re a focal point for the rage, as they sputter to try and form an argument while four other people gang up on them. They serve to remind just how pitiful, weak and illogical the other side is.
“Huh,” I remember thinking. “It’s pro wrestling.”
We want to cheer the people we agree with and boo the people we view as unsavory. There’s probably some cable news networks or shows that are better — that is, more newsworthy and more objectively analytical — than others. I would imagine that’s hard to find amid all the white noise of hysteria and anger. The majority of cable news, in my observation, is simply entertainment. I’m picking on Fox because that’s what was on the tube. I would imagine Lawrence O’Donnell (if he’s still on TV, I don’t really know) and Sean Hannity are two sides of the same coin.
What irks me is that this blather gets labeled as “news,” and then you’ve got each side talking about media bias. My own bias is pretty transparent, I would think, but I’m an opinion writer. It’s in the job description. Lines get blurred on cable news or particular internet programming and large radio networks.
But the saddest thing is that, for a lot of people, a particular news network or other media endorsed by that network is all they consume. We’d all like to believe we want to be open to new ideas and other points of view, but, when it comes down to it, many of us prefer hearing what we want to hear.
That’s a problem because, these days, it can get you into a pretty weird headspace. I’ve had people call me and treat me like an idiot because I didn’t know chemtrails were prepping my brain for subservience to the New World Order and that only President Trump could save us. I’ve had people call me in a panic because President Trump is going to bring about the apocalypse. Then, of course, you see the cases where someone actually hatches a plot to harm people because of what they hear or read in cable news and online.
To folks who find themselves consumed with anger about things they might not care about if cable news hadn’t gotten them riled up in the first place, and others who might be teetering on the verge, I’d simply suggest taking some time off from those outlets and social media. I know it’s hard, especially during a pandemic that has us spending more time in isolation. But the world, imperfect though it may be, is still out there. Sometimes, it’s good just to step outside, take a breath and remember that.