Where Have You Gone, Walter Cronkite?

Where have you gone, Walter Cronkite? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Look at CNN’s website right now. Don’t know how to get there? Follow this link. Look it over. Meditate on it. Look at how many times the word “Trump” is on the homepage. Click a few stories. See if you can find anything either neutral or positive about a Republican. Almost every story on CNN’s homepage is some editorializing piece that presents an argument based on an agenda more so than facts.

Now go to Fox News’s website. Do the same thing you just did at CNN but from the opposite perspective. Try and find a positive or neutral story about a Democrat. Just like CNN, most of the stories on Fox News’s homepage are slanted pieces meant to send a specific message. Is this surprising to anyone? Probably not.

But what happened to objectivity in news? What happened to information and substance over opinion and slant? And why is it not absolutely horrifying that no one is surprised by the content on CNN’s website and Fox News’s website?

What Don’t They Say?

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Reflecting on both news sites, think about the stories that are there. There’s nothing about the $27.9 trillion national debt in the United States. There’s nothing about the fact that an estimated 40 million people on this earth, 71% of whom are women and 25% of whom are children, are slaves. Literal slaves. There’s a multibillion dollar slave trade in existence right now. And much of it is related to sex trafficking. And here’s the scariest part: if you google “modern slavery” or “slave trade today,” the most recent articles you’ll find on it are over six months old.

There’s nothing about how genocide still happens today. There’s nothing about how, out of 36 countries surveyed, the United States ranks 33rd in infant mortality rate at just under six deaths per 1,000 live births. CNN has nothing on its homepage about the coup d’etat in Myanmar, and while Fox News does, it’s buried deep down on the page. And while you might justify this by saying it’s not the US’s concern, consider that the United States has released an official statement condemning the coup (in the linked article).

How about something ubiquitous? How could they ignore Covid, right? Wrong. In November, December, and up through January 20, all of the talk related to Covid could be classified as deaths, vaccines, or relief bill. Now look at those websites. Very little mention of the relief bill on either one, which is surprising since you’d think Fox News would want to slam President Biden for not getting this done sooner. If you google “Biden Covid relief” the first articles you’ll see are from an ABC affiliate then Al-Jazeera. Al Jazeera, the Qatari news station, has more prominent coverage of the Covid relief package than Fox News or CNN. Unreal.

Then there’s a story about Nancy Pelosi. The story is this: in December, Nancy Pelosi’s husband invested between $500,000 and $1 million in Tesla stock. In January, after taking office, President Biden announced that he wants to replace every federal government automobile with an electric version. Now, this would suggest that the Pelosis had a heads-up about what President Biden’s plans were, which would mean that they are greasier than other politicians and that it might even violate some securities laws. Even Snopes can’t fully deny it. Maybe it’s blown out of proportion, maybe it’s a conspiracy, but either way it deserves some investigation. You can bet your bippy if it was the McConnel family investing money just ahead of a President Trump announcement, it would be investigated. But not even Fox News is giving this that much coverage.

What Does It Mean?

It’s just the state of the news right now. At one point, presumably, stories that had some semblance of objective importance—that is, stories about worldwide slavery, genocide, the national debt being incomprehensibly large, etc.—would have been given some air time. We haven’t even heard much about the environment lately, and surely it can’t be getting any better?

It’s no secret that cable news networks have political biases. And it’s probably true that even the most well meaning objective reporter probably includes some of their personal feelings in a report. Unfortunately for the average people of America, these news agencies, instead of trying to report the news with healthy debate and without one-sided bias, have leaned into it. Sure, Fox News says “fair and balanced,” but no one believes that. And sure, CNN says it’s not as left-leaning as Fox is right-leaning, but the only people who believe that are the same people who repost CNN articles without reading them first.

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This chart shows the approximate political alignment of many different news sources.

This is understandable in our capitalistic society. And really, I love capitalism. I really do. It’s definitely flawed, but so far it’s the best system that’s been tried in a country as large as the United States. But one huge drawback is that the dissemination of information has become about money rather than education. Shouldn’t the news be a place where people can learn what’s going on then form their own opinions on the matter?

This isn’t an original idea. Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom tackled this issue. Did I say “tackled?” “Tackled” isn’t the right word. “Addressed,” maybe? Either way, the show brought up the idea, but then spent 25 episodes having Aaron Sorkin’s idea of the ideal Republican bash Republicans. But that’s fine, because it was a television show created for entertainment, not news. And it’s good. I’m neither liberal nor conservative. Neither Democrat nor Republican. All that means is that I can take jokes about either side and laugh at them heartily.

What’s the Solution?

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Like Will McAvoy in The Newsroom, I am embarking on an admittedly quixotic mission to bring objective news to people. Can I do it? Not personally. For one thing, I’m not a journalist, I’m a lawyer. And for another, I run a blog that discusses the psychology of brunch orders in between stories on current events, so even if I was a journalist, this isn’t the medium for it.

No, my mission will be handled differently. I’m simply going to encourage people to research things themselves. If you see a headline on CNN or Fox or MSNBC or BBC America or Al Jazeera or CBS News or ESPN, which for some reason is getting more into the news world, read it, and before you just assume the opinions contained therein are credible, do a little research. Research used to mean taking off work early to go to your local library and look through microfiche and old newspapers. Now, with this new technology known as the “Internet,” research is easy. Just google some of the folks in the article. Click through to links it uses as source material.

But most importantly, try to clear your mind before you read. Try to temporarily forget your biases. Try to read the article as if you know nothing of the subject matter and have no opinions of the topics. It’s difficult at first, and to be fair it continues to be a challenge, but I promise you it is worth it. You will be more informed. You may not feel more informed, but if you can try to be objective, you will in fact be more informed.

There is something special about scrutinizing a piece of information before deciding how you feel about it. For one thing, you will feel much more accomplished, and you’ll find you have more confidence in the opinions you do have because you know they’re backed up by facts and rationality rather than sensationalism and regurgitation of whatever your go-to news network tells you to think that day. For another, you’ll realize how awful the current setup is. You’ll understand that there’s the news, then there’s the narrative, and they have very little to do with one another. You’ll also learn that there are multiple legitimate conclusions that can be drawn from the same information. That’s why issues like abortion will never be settled. There are legitimate arguments to be made on all sides of the issue (I’m not going to get into them, nor will I let you know where I stand).

You may even find yourself becoming nonpartisan, which is something this country desperately needs. You’ll realize that even though you can’t stand Elizabeth Warren, she has some great ideas and policies on bankruptcy. Or maybe you’ll realize that even though you hate Rand Paul, he has a great record on civil asset forfeiture and civil rights.

But there are two things you’ll learn that are most valuable of all:

First, you’ll learn that being independently informed bleeds into other parts of your life and you will probably become a fairer, more measured person when weighing options and making decisions. This is invaluable because it means you are using logic and critical thinking before making important decisions, which should always be encouraged. You will likely become more empathetic, sympathetic, and compassionate because you’ll be able to really listen to other people’s concerns and problems, political and otherwise.

Second, and most importantly, you’ll remember that there are 535 senators and congressman, one president, and one vice president, governing over 330 million people. You’ll learn that those 330 million people are all different, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways, but always in some ways. What you’ll begin to appreciate is that most people just want to live their lives, and that you can get along with a lot of different people. To be certain, there are always outliers like neo-Nazis, religious terrorists, violent communists, and other riff raff, but by and large if we spent more time being friendly to one another and learning about other people, we’d be a more compassionate society.

But compassion and togetherness don’t bring in viewers and don’t sell ad space, so you have to look outside the media for that. My most sincere hope is that when Covid has ebbed and public and private places are more open again, we can enjoy talking to strangers, learning about them, and remembering those perspectives. But we’re all in this together, so it’s best to try to build bridges than walls.

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