I Don’t Get My Political News From TV
Mostly, I read many points of view and many sources. I like to think that my consent is not manufactured.
Since about 2015, I’ve taken notice of just how much money is spent on advertising and “earned media”. People like Bernie Sanders and Larry Lessig raised my awareness of money in politics. I’ve taken notice of how people can allow themselves to be persuaded by political advertising. I understand now why enormous sums of money are spent to get images and sounds in front of people sitting passively in front of a TV. Political advertising is often designed to manufacture consent.
I’m not really much of a TV guy. When I was a kid, I’d come home from school and watch Speed Racer, ancient Popeye cartoons by Max Fleischer, and maybe a bit of the Electric Company. Ahhh, the Electric Company. I remember Morgan Freeman as the Easy Reader. He was cool.
Still, I can recall how I’d feel watching TV. I’d see that the day is passing me by, so I limited my time in front of the TV. I remembered that my friends were outside of the house. I’d know that the sun is moving across the sky out there. My bike called to me to ride it. The parks called to me to walk through them. If the weather was not so great, then there were books to read. I read many more books as a young man than I do now. And now, most of my reading is online, with fresh news, science, data, and politics.
I’ve never really liked getting my news from the TV, anyway. Well, there was a time I did like that, but I pretty much ignored the local news. I just wanted the weather and sports after work on the weekdays. Back then I’d watch the weather forecast with Fritz Coleman on KNBC 4. He was a comedian and the banter between him and the anchors was a riot. See, I didn’t take TV news seriously, even then. And after the weather, there were sports highlights with Fred Roggin. Roggin’s highlights were often funny and inspiring. That was where I really took an interest in TV news and it wasn’t much of an interest.
I took a dim view of the local news because mostly, it consisted of a series of stories of someone hurting someone else. Robbery, assault, and battery, mixed in with some story about a serial killer. Richard Ramirez is one name I still remember. That was pretty depressing, so I just stuck with the weather and sports highlights. At least then, I could get a little lift for the day.
I used to subscribe to the local papers, too. I read the editorials, much of the political and business news, and if there was a scientific breakthrough, I got that through the local papers. With the local paper, I studiously avoided articles about crime. I focused on business and politics. I even wrote letters to the editor to my local paper and got a few published. The paper was a better experience for me than TV news.
I can recall significant stretches of my life when TV was but a passing thought. I don’t have many memories of watching TV in high school. As an adult, I really didn’t catch on with Friends, Seinfeld and 3rd Rock From the Sun. Two And A Half Men? Missed it. CSI? Missed it and every spinoff. The Big Bang Theory? Missed that, too.
As the internet came into view, I began to notice that local newspapers had built websites. I began to notice many more varied and interesting sources of news. My interests in business, weather, and then science news found new sources for me to consume.
I subscribed to cable, for much of my adult life, but I still hardly watched much TV. I think I kept it down to about an hour a day at most, and often, I’d record some show that I was following and I skipped the commercials. Star Trek Next Generation, Babylon 5 and The X-Files were the only shows that I can recall having any interest in during my 30s. As the internet grew, my interest in the internet grew at the expense of TV. And I’d rather read the news than to watch a series of 2-minute stories on TV scant on details.
I’m hard of hearing so this makes sense to me. I never miss a word reading about a developing story. And printed stories offer far more detail than I can get from a televised version of the same story. I also found that I could compare the same story from different viewpoints by reading the same story in different places on the internet.
When I find a political story of interest, I’d read articles about the same story on conservative and liberal sites. I’ll read the Huffington Post and the National Review to see if there are any facts that stay the same between different points of view. I take note of what is left out by each side. I’ve even found brazen plagiarism while comparing stories. I like to see how each side emphasizes certain facts while ignoring others.
It occurs to me that once the government tossed the Fairness Doctrine, the press did, too. It’s not very easy to get a fair and balanced story on TV or from the local papers. Once we lost the Fairness Doctrine, the only way to restore that balance was to become an active researcher. And that’s what I’ve done. The internet gives us the ability to find balance in the news by providing a forum with a far greater range of points of view.
I read different points of view not just to check the assumptions of the people who write the stories that I read. I read opposing viewpoints to check my own assumptions. I read opposing viewpoints because I believe that those other people might have a good reason to support their point of view, and I’m willing to listen, even if I disagree. At least then I can say that I’ve taken note of what the other side has to say, and I can point out the contrast to my audience, whether they be family, friends, or readers.
And when I read a story in the news, that phrase, “manufactured consent” is in the back of my mind. I’m asking questions while I’m reading. Reading is not a passive activity for me. I’m asking questions, thinking about how what I’m reading relates to other things that I’ve read. I’m wondering about how what I’m reading was intended to influence me. I’m wondering what was left out of the story in order to lend a certain impression.
When I read the news, I reserve judgment. I reserve consent. I’m reserving the right to make up my own mind, based on my own research from a variety of points of view. It’s all I can do to avoid manufacturing consent.