25 December 2006

News, Fear and Thought

I am a news junkie. Or rather, I’m a recovering news junkie. I’m an American, and I’ve been living in Australia for just about a year now. I don’t have FoxTel or “cable” of any fashion. I’ve got the five broadcast channels, and I’ve had only these for as long as I’ve lived here (outside of business trips and such). Before moving here, I was tied in one way or another to a television, at least within earshot, so that I could stay up to date on exactly what was going on. I simply had to know, or at least I thought I did.

On a recent trip to the States, it took me about 15 minutes of consuming various news channels, I realized that the “news” was more like a Howard Stern radio show than information dissemination. Granted, I wasn’t watching the most “enlightened” of news shows. Katie Couric on NBC just about did me in single-handedly with the lingering full-screen “(insert number here) US Servicemen died in Iraq today”. Nothing like giving the public blunt facts, but piled on top (and after) a litany of bad news stories, it seemed like the footnote attribution for all of the bad news of the day, the book of resource from which all negative events have their source.

But it was my old standby channel, Fox News, that pushed me over the edge. Granted, I was watching the morning show (can’t recall the name…“Fox and Friends”), which never was a favorite of mine. In fact, I would generally avoid that show. On this trip, I finally understood why. After about five minutes of watching the “friends”, my wife asked me, “Why are they shouting?” I realized that they were shouting at us, endlessly. Everything they said, apparently, demanded a raised voice. I don’t even know what they were talking about, but it must have been important enough that they felt compelled to yell it at us. The television was then turned off, only to regain its consciousness for important events (read: hockey games).

This morning, I read an article on The American Thinker website about fear. It’s a fantastic read…give it a shot. Anyway, it made me think about those little encounters with US “news” television and what is going on in the world around us. The simple fact is that there is a lot going on, but I can’t count on 24-hour news channels to get any of it, at least not in any meaningful way. The reason is that they want to grab our attention and hold it out of fear. The more afraid we are, the longer we’ll watch, and the more often we’ll turn back to see if there are “further developments”.

But really, the world doesn’t evolve that quickly. Sure, things happen, emergencies occur, that demand immediate attention. But for the most part, things go slowly. How long have news channels been blaring dire warnings about Iran obtaining nuclear weapons? Important problem? Yes. Demands attention? Yes. Requires 24-hour updates, screen-crawl boldface and talking heads ceaselessly dissecting the horrible possibilities? Nope.

And that’s just one instance of gaining viewership-through-fear. And honestly, I just couldn’t stand it. A year of living slowly in Australia has given me a little different perspective (and maybe broken the news addiction). I read most of my news now. I take time to digest it, think about it, talk about it. The news is not shouted at me, and I don’t live in dire fear of the e-coli riddled suicide bombers that may be working in my local garage.

Because when I need to really think about something, when there is a real problem (and there are plenty out there), I need to be as fear-free as possible to read into situations and make correct decisions.

So, my recommendation is to not watch the news. Read it. Take your time, sit back, and think about it. If something really bad happens, something that demands your full attention immediately, your favorite non-news show will be interrupted to let you know.

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