Stories and information are kind of like food — you can’t just open wide and take it all in, or you could get sick. It’s smarter to control the amount, check the quality and be thoughtful about what you share with others.
I’ve been consuming information and getting mental indigestion. That made me think that news stories and information are kind of like food — you can’t just open wide and take it all in, or you could get sick. It’s smarter to control the amount, check the quality and be more thoughtful about what you share with other people.
The other night I turned on CNN, which I hadn’t done in a while. I’ve been on a CNN diet because, no matter when I tuned in, there seemed to be a group of people arguing about politics and saying the same things they were saying the last time I watched.
All I wanted was a little news before bed. Yes, I know, consuming news before bed can be bad for a person’s health, but it’s an occupational hazard for me.
So, I turned on the TV, and there was anchor Don Lemon with a grid of talking heads behind him. I didn’t click off because one of the heads was Jeffrey Lord, whose role since the presidential campaign has been to defend Donald Trump from the fallout over whatever he just said, did or tweeted.
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Usually seeing him would be a reason to move on, but last week Lord was defending himself for a comment he made in defense of Trump’s threat to withhold money from insurers that provide health coverage to low-income people.
Trump said he was using the threat to get Democrats in Congress to negotiate with him. Lord defended the tactic and said using it made Trump the Martin Luther King Jr. of health care.
This started a day of social-media frenzy, and on the evening show, Lord defended his remark against all the objections from three other panelists and the anchor.
I kept watching and waiting for the moment when Lord would say he might have overstepped a bit, or maybe just that he understood why some people might have a problem with the comparison. That of course was never going to happen, but my desire for it to happen overrode my previous experience with the format.
Trump likes to say that CNN produces fake news. It produces real news that tries to hold the president accountable for his words and actions, but it also produces spectacles that have no value beyond entertainment.
CNN actually pays Lord and some other folks to make unreasonable arguments while other panelists throw facts at them. But facts have no effect, except sometimes to draw forth so-called alternative facts.
The format isn’t a public service, but it does help pay the bills.
CNN is not the only news organization that chases after eyeballs. We’re all a little desperate these days, but most journalists, including those on CNN, try to deliver something of value to news consumers.
None of us, though, can fight with facts alone against people who are unwilling to believe them because their guts are committed to some counterfactual belief or cause.
Politicians of all persuasions have gotten very good at stirring up fear and anger as a way to get people to vote for them. Trump mastered that campaign strategy, and he continues to use it in office. The Mexicans, the Muslims, the Chinese are trying to get you, and one man can take them on and protect your jobs and your lives.
We have to keep putting facts out there, because that’s our job, and also telling stories that help those facts make sense in a visceral way. Stories that might entice people to put down the chips and take in a little cauliflower.
But the exchanges of information and storytelling are not just spectator activities. Active engagement by consumers improves the process.
A friend who teaches college-journalism courses has been telling his students that they need to post and tweet responsibly. They need to ask themselves whether they are passing along false or distorted information just because it supports their positions.
We all need to pay more attention to what we take in and what we put out for others.