Just read an opinion piece that says now that we don’t all sit down and watch the old Evening News with Walter Cronkite and then think that we know “that’s the way that it is”, not everyone is seeing or reading the same thing and it has led to mass confusion and a plethora of so-called news sites that spew out half-truths, propaganda, and just plain lies. People no longer seem to know or in some instances even care what the truth is. And with people able to customize their so-called news watching or reading to just things they may be interested in — there goes any chance of critical thinking and open minds.
Of course Cronkite was not the only television anchor man of his time, but he was the icon. Did he not go to Vietnam and tell the American people it was hopeless? And was that not the end of major public support of the war if there ever was any?
At one time it seemed worrisome that the big three television networks seemed to have a lock on the news. And major newspapers or major newspaper chains did too.
Oh wouldn’t it be nice if the public had more sources to choose from, maybe ones that might present a different perspective? That probably was the thought by many, even within established journalism itself.
(I try to avoid the term “media” when possible because of the pejorative nature it has taken on. Referring to the common understanding of the word is like lumping journalists in with shady used car salesman.)
Well we got our wish. Along came the internet. You can now get your “news” on demand. Some of it is tailored just to your own interest, no opposing views or inconvenient truths to pollute it. Some of it is a little distorted. And now a lot of it is just plain false, just fake news, put out there in many cases not to push a point of view but just to get you to click onto it so the purveyors of it can get advertising dollars based on views.
Also, it had been my observation through my many years (67) that even though I was interested in current events and politics from an early age, many others were not. I had a best friend. I liked his folks — nice down-to-earth people. But I found it odd that as soon as the evening news came on they would switch the channel. Maybe they read what they needed to know in the newspaper, but I think the father just read the sports page.
But what I am trying to say is that there was a large portion of the public who did not pay attention to current events and they did not vote. They were just out of the picture. But nowadays nearly everyone has a “smart phone”, well I don’t, but I do have instant access to the internet; I still use a flip phone because it serves my purpose — making actual phone calls. And I keep promising to get a smart phone. And now everyone has access to all kinds of stuff. But not everyone uses critical thinking. And a lot of people like to read what they think or what their own prejudices predispose them to believe.
Hence, the power of fake news. It may have cost Hillary Clinton the election (although most people think she herself is what primarily caused it) and it prompted at least one nut case to attack a pizza parlor in search of an imaginary child sex ring run by Clinton.
And now we have a President-elect who capitalizes on the phenomenon of just saying something without regard to truth knowing that either a large portion of the public will believe him or that they might not even care. I mean they are so used to reading what they want to read that anything works for them as truth or is a good replacement for it.
What to do?
We might actually go back to teaching the basics of reading and composition writing where one can make a case based on evidence. We might stress history and civics and literature. We might teach the importance of civic responsibility and that good public policy goes beyond who can make the most money no matter what the means.
Really for the educated and responsible there might not be much we can do in the short run except keep the faith and challenge those who lie by demanding some real evidence.
And we also have to examine our own critical thinking and keep open minds.
But this new form of fascism, a kind of re-incarnation from the 1930s and 40s, where public information is devoid of truth and is just propaganda designed to support tyrants at the top who shout nationalism, has to be resisted.
Ironically, the narrative that has been used to support the new fascism is that all along a cabal of elites at the top have been running things and now the people are standing up.
I think those people who think that they are standing up will soon realize that they have been caught up in a con game and will be forced to sit down by the very person they chose.