Do you watch MSNBC? How about CNN? Or one of the old line networks like CBS? Maybe FOX? Or an international channel like BBC or Al Jazeera? How do you feel about the information you receive there? In particular, is your favorite network the ‘best’ one, delivering the Truth while the others are all telling lies?
Once upon a time, that question would have been nearly meaningless. There were three major broadcast news networks: CBS, NBC, and ABC. They had incredibly serious news divisions and their entertainment divisions were incredibly bland.
I remember them, and it’s exactly that memory that makes it impossible for me to stomach modern news programs. I watched Walter Cronkite give his Op-Ed on Vietnam, and for a news broadcaster to editorialize was, itself, big news at the time. I remember Huntley & Brinkley, and Eric Sevareid. Educated, serious men, they surely had opinions, but they worked hard to keep themselves out of their own broadcasts, letting the facts speak for themselves.
That all changed with Ronald Reagan and the era of market forces replacing the public interest. With networks finally pushing for news programs to make money, Reagan’s FCC discarded the Fairness Doctrine.
The Fairness doctrine was based on the fact that airwaves – literal slices of allotted broadcast bandwidth that people picked up with antennas on their houses – were a limited public resource. For technical reasons, it wasn’t possible to make more of them.
But when cable networks came along, there was no longer any technical limitation to the number of channels one could create. Today, with the Internet, anyone with a few thousand dollars worth of equipment and a suit can create a convincing ‘broadcast’ style ‘newsroom.’ The multiplication of channels means people can keep shopping until they find one that precisely matches their biases – or even plays on and manipulates their biases.
It also undermines the argument for original government regulation.
So if I don’t watch news programs, how do I get information? From foundational sources. I read history and science books, and take National Geographic and Scientific American. I follow subject experts on social media. And don’t worry, just being on the Internet makes it impossible to be unaware of current news stories.
More’s the pity.