Excerpt from the book, Media Collusion (Available on Amazon today in paperback and Kindle formats)
Think about all of this with a comparison of two people. Ted and Steve are recent college graduates. They attended respectable schools and graduated with 3.5 grade point averages, some party skills, and a slightly better understanding of females than their former high school selves.
Ted goes to work for a technology company, where a lot of the older programmers are faithful readers and watchers of traditional media. They watch NBC, read the LA Times and occasionally dabble in the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal. Ted is happy to fit in with his new peer group. The older programmers have a great time spouting off about politics and public figures based on their consumption of traditional/generic news. Their zingers and one-liners mimic the talking points presented by mainstream media. They are funny to larger groups of people, because they feed the same lines given to them by the media back to their friends and associates, but with added irony, sarcasm and biting commentary. They mix common sense with the staid storylines of the news and come up with some fun banter.
This group also chides each other about diet choices based on mainstream (often conflicting) research about everything from caffeine and coffee to diet fads and pharmaceuticals.
They are a very busy bunch, so they don’t have much time to dive deep into topics. They compile “headline information” into their heads. Their understanding of world events is good enough to produce interesting recall and mixing of subject matter. This produces humor and insights similar to what many of the late-night TV comedians can muster.
Ted drinks energy drinks to keep up with his fast-paced work life and orders out for meals quite often, thinking that he’s saving time. At his home, he has a TV in his kitchen, one in his bathroom near the mirror next to the shower, and a big 4K screen with an Xbox in his living room. His morning weekday routine includes powering up all the TVs so the day’s news can follow him around his house. By the time he leaves for work, his brain has been filled with all the news (what’s been decided as important by a very small group of New York Times and network news producers/publishers) of the day. Some of the news he consumes comes via social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn.
Steve took a course like the one you just completed. He’s not a journalist, a marketing expert or a media analyst, but he has a critical eye on all the stories he’s being fed by the media and some of the potential sources of these stories. He knows that the news media is built on a tradition of pay-to-play PR and coverage that’s dominated by sports teams, large businesses, powerful entertainment interests, and well-organized organizations (including NGOs and government agencies).
He works at an e-Commerce company that sells supplements via Amazon.com. On weekdays, Steve wakes up and exercises. He tries to meditate in the early morning hours, too. Since he knows what some of the health risks are for media consumption, he carefully plans his avoidance of morning messages and the “cloud of confusion” offered up by typical media outlets.
He visits a curated list of news sites from time to time, but he doesn’t consume media on a daily basis. The list of sites and YouTube channels he visits are a carefully selected cross-section of conservative, liberal, libertarian, alternative, and conspiratorial resources. When he does consume news, he’s looking for patterns and themes that bounce around amongst all these types of outlets. When big, breaking news hits, he waits at least 2 days for the dust to settle, knowing that first hour and first day accounts of tragic incidents usually promote a lot of misinformation. He actively tries to stay away from social media and forces himself to avoid aligning with any “team” like right-wingers, leftists, globalists, environmentalists or statists. He shares his voting habits and political opinions with very few people. He identifies and understands product/philosophy/ideology pitches that are embedded within popular culture/media (movies, sports, sit-coms, news analysis, consumer surveys, etc.).
Ted becomes easily outraged by stories he sees in the news. A report on the toxicity of certain coffee beans can easily set him off, as can a story about the latest gun attack. He personalizes a lot of the feelings in the stories and even adopts some of the cadences and seriousness of the on-air talent that convey the stories. When news is discussed by his friends on social media sites, he can become even more agitated. He feels a need to set people straight with his particular point of view. He does, however, gain some comfort from commiserating with people on social media. His friends share many of his views.
Ted takes a statin for hypertension and “bad” cholesterol levels. This statin is advertised heavily on major news networks. When his doctor recommended he go on a heart health control drug, he knew this particular one by name. He drinks beer advertised on Sunday NFL broadcasts and has a home security system that he bought from a 1-800 number featured on a nightly news advertisement.
Steve recognizes that he’s not able to make heads or tails of any network-promoted report on coffee, fat, cholesterol, alcohol, marijuana or any other journalistically-obsessed-on topic. He concedes that he doesn’t know a lot about how the government conducts foreign wars and international intercessions. He tries to keep an eye on his neighborhood, his business relationships, his friends and his family.
Steve ignores most political topics that arise in social situations. Ted feeds off of and into those same types of exchanges.
Who is more calm, happy and well adjusted? Ted or Steve? What would the news media have you believe? Is an informed person (one informed by settled facts) happier than one who doesn’t know as much information? Is more information detrimental? Which one of these guys makes better decisions about the things that affect their lives?