Last year, I wrote about how exposing employees to network news hurts their performance. Today, CNN has declared fake news a “plague.” Hillary Clinton is claiming that fake news cost her the election and is calling on congress to stop the “epidemic.” And Facebook has annointed itself the fake news police.
I have news for Fox, CNN and Facebook: it’s all fake news.
News has never been news, or what we’ve all been led to believe it is, and never will be. News is not a “fair and balanced” reporting of the day’s events, but rather someone’s interpretation of those events.
News can never be factual because human beings do not exist in a world of truths and facts, but rather in a world of their truths and facts. Marketers and news conglomerates figured this out a long time ago. That’s one reason why, when it comes to the news, we have a diverse menu of interpretative choices: CNN’s interpretation, PBS’s interpretation, Fox’s interpretation, MSNBC’s interpretation, or thousands of websites’ interpretations.
Humanity’s interpreting ability is a good thing. It makes us inventive, which has helped lead to the success of our species. We are not mindless amoebas floating through life, reacting to positive and negative stimuli and completely at the mercy of our environment. Because of our interpretive ability, we are able to change our environment to suit and serve us.
If we all understood and embraced this reality there would be no danger from news, fake or otherwise, because we would all realize none of it is the truth or factual, but rather some reporter’s or commentator’s interpretation.
Unfortunately, many people do not have this realization, and living without it causes them, like the amoeba, to be shaped by their environment––which includes the news they consume. I pity these people, but there is some good news: the realization can be acquired at any time one chooses to embrace it.
When I am exposed to today’s news programs, I’m taken back to when I was a young boy in the 60’s and “professional wrestling” was popular. Millions of Americans watched wrestling every Saturday night, and many were convinced it was real.
Because my parents taught me that I interpret the world into being; that my interpretations determine how I think, feel and behave; and consequently that I have total control over the world I experience, I saw TV wrestling merely as entertainment designed to make me experience enjoyable feelings, as does any good entertainment. And I understood that the price to receive this entertainment was to expose myself to commercials intended to influence me to buy the advertised products–a simple and fair business exchange.
I chose to expose myself to the ads because, as a simple boy, I wanted to feel anger toward the villain (always a fat, ugly Russian, Iranian or some other then-enemy of America) and to feel joy when he was defeated by the American hero (always fit, handsome, and wholesome). I watched because I enjoyed the drama between good and evil and seeing that most of the time, good prevailed.
However, even as an yet-to-be-fully-developed youngster, I never thought for a moment that what I was watching was real or should have any lasting effect on my way of thinking or behaving. As my mom used to say, “Wrestling is the common man’s Shakespeare.” I knew it was Philistine, but it was also a lot of fun.
But then something happened. As I watched, I saw children and adults in the TV audience who obviously believed the wrestling was real. They would scream obscenities and throw objects at the villains. They would cry on the rare occasion that the hero lost. They lived and died emotionally based on the outcome of each match.
I wondered, how could any adult allow something, intended to be meaningless entertainment, to manipulate and control them? Furthermore, these stooges were an integral part of the show and were often more entertaining than the match itself.
What we call news has become today’s common man’s Shakespeare and serves the same purpose as did TV wresting. The news attracts viewers by generating and exaggerating drama, often when there is no reason for drama to exist. There is always a villain (the participant in the match who interprets the world differently than you and who is ironically still often Russian or Iranian) that you enjoy watching be defeated by the hero (the opponent who interprets the world as you do). And of course, there’s the very fit, attractive, and wholesome host who referees the match––as Don Henley described in his song “Dirty Laundry”: “The bubble-headed-bleached-blond who comes on at five.”
Lastly, there is the crowd who responds to the news as if it is real and allows this manufactured drama to manipulate their thoughts, feelings, and actions. But today, the crowd isn’t (usually) in the studio audience. They’re in the streets, throwing rocks and spitting insults at those who interpret things differently than they do. They’re lying on the convention floor, curled in a fetal position and sobbing because their hero lost the match. They’re torching their neighborhoods and tossing Molotov cocktails at the police, and when they’re not escaping to their “safe places,” they’re marching in protest, insisting that everyone must interpret the world as they do. And like the TV wresting crowd, they are as entertaining and attract as much of the audience as do the other players in this ludicrous play.
In the distant past, the news may have been somewhat factual and truthful, but certainly, anyone with an ounce of intelligence can see today’s news for what it is: entertainment designed to influence us to buy the advertised products. Think I’m wrong? I challenge anyone to watch Fox News for more than 30 minutes and not walk away thinking, “I ought to buy myself some Viagra,” or “I better shift my investments to gold.” Or try watching CNN without feeling compelled to join Weight Watchers or make a donation to Peta.
As a reader of my posts, you are aware that I rarely watch the news. But I did watch it the day after the recent presidential election. I went online and viewed videos of the coverage and people’s reactions. What I saw was millions of people, thinking what they were hearing and seeing was factual, and allowing themselves to be emotionally hooked and manipulated by it. To me, they were no different than the suckers in the 60’s who threw chairs and tossed profanity in make-believe wrestling matches.
But what was even more disturbing was that the “unbiased” news reporters and moderators had become part of the audience and were just as emotionally hooked as their audience. They had been spewing their interpretations for so long, they’d come to see them as facts. The election’s outcome left some obviously joyful. Some were blatantly devastated and even cried as it became clear that their candidate would not win. Even scarier were those who began telling their audience how they should think and feel–that they should be scared for their children and worried about the future. There was no intent to inform and educate so that the audience could form their own interpretations, only to manipulate. Talk about your fake news!
But as I say, the good news is that you can rise above this crowd of suckers and stooges. It’s easy to do. Just stop watching or caring about the news. Instead, start watching and caring about what does matter: your friends and family, your employees, and your community. That’s the only place that real news really occurs and the only place that you can make a genuine difference in people’s lives and the future.
I get your point. Yes, it is all interpretation, every news report, article, or “fair and balanced” view. Nevertheless, some interpretations are certainly better than others, yes? Without even getting into the issues surrounding fact and fiction, we can agree that some interpretations help the reader see below the surface of an event or persoective, while others merely obfuscate based upon implicit reasoning often not spelled out.
“Fake News,” IMHO, intends to mislead, or to fan the flames of certain fires – in some cases, all in the hope of manipulating outcomes; in others, just to watch and see how many liberals or conservatives can be driven to react in some fashion.
While I agree that the pure, unadulterated, and unadorned truth is never spoken, I do consider the practices of vetting, fact-checking, and third-party verifications important. Perhaps more important to me in choosing what I read, listen to, and watch, is my ability to determine if the woman or man asserting a certain view regarding what happens holds similar values regarding that which differentiates the practices of honorable journalism from that which is debased and without other merit.
You make great points, Geoffrey. I’d just add that while your self-awareness and intentional selection of what you consume are ideal, it seems the majority of the public either can’t or refuses to cultivate that kind of approach.