DEAF AND NUMB
Not too many years ago, I used to look forward to Sunday morning television talk shows. The interplay of ideas was exciting, and they seemed to provide a clearer look into issues and events that were important to the nation and the world at large.
That’s changed. Nowadays, I find the talking heads from both sides of the aisle just that – faces saying words from talking points, with little attempt at true discussion or debate. Much of the verbiage these days is not offered by proponents. Instead, it is put forth by reporters, or people who used to work for some publicity-oriented organization. Reporters, even when I worked as one, were supposed to convey the news and inform readers (or listeners, or viewers) of known, substantiated fact. Those on the talk shows today share their own opinions, perhaps based on what they’ve heard – or perhaps not.
Radio serves no better. The sheer stridency of right wing message is overwhelming at first, but quickly becomes redundant and boring. Rush Limbaugh is reported to have once said he could just as easily have become a left-wing spokesman as one for the right. I don’t doubt that. There are as many half-baked notions among democrats as there are among republicans.
Newspapers were always – as a group, anyway – a little left of center in their politics. Still, in the past that sentiment was left on the editorial page. The rest of the paper (among those I knew, anyhow) was devoted to putting out fact. But the papers – the ones that are left – have taken a hard turn left, led by the nation’s biggest printed voices. The current president’s administration never got a fair shake from the press from his first day in office. Nor will he until (or even after) the last day he serves.
The new media has decided to muffle some voices and lend a megaphone to others. The rough edges of rationality on both sides of the political spectrum can be found at vox and parler, as well as other sites even further from center and less wedded to fact. Perhaps we will become similar to the old French Republic, where every political viewpoint had its own newspaper and reality.
Right now, there doesn’t seem to be a good source for plain, unvarnished truth in our nation’s media. Every sentence, every paragraph must be examined through the lens of political position. Whether we discuss the raging pandemic, the national debt, the state of our children’s education, or even forest fires – there is no place to find an accurate, straightforward explanation of what is going on and how well it is working.
Some say the old Soviet Union fell because it collapsed economically, and there’s certainly truth to that. There were other forces at work, as well. In the late ‘80’s, cheap fax machines became available for the first time – units that could be attached to any phone. People I have talked to who were in the east during that era tell me that the presence of fax machines – for the first time – brought truth behind the eastern bloc, and showed Russians what the rest of the world was doing and thinking. These machines were impossible to totally stifle or control. They gave the beleaguered communists their first clear view of the rest of the world. The collapse of the Soviet monolith followed quickly.
There’s a lesson here. If we choose, as a nation, to blind ourselves to reality by embracing a comfortable media-filtered viewpoint, we plant the seeds of our own eventual dissolution. If our nation is not strong enough to be presented with the truth, stripped of politics or world view, then we cannot be strong enough to make our own decisions – especially in a world that becomes more frightening and challenging daily. We’ll have to let others make our decisions for us, and that will become the end of the great American experiment.