There was a time when you could turn on the TV news and listen to what you were fairly confident was actually news. Walter Cronkite on CBS always seemed to really “Tell it like it is.” He never seemed to put a spin on anything. No one doubted anything he said when he reported space missions from NASA or the assassination of JFK. You never had to wonder, “What is Cronkite’s real agenda?” His agenda was always to tell me the news of the day.
The question of politics and ideas was always one of, “Which flavor tastes best in my own personal opinion?” Because I was weirdly and excessively smart as a kid, I often listened to some of the smartest people accessible to a black-and-white RCA television set.
William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal were both identifiably smarter than me. I loved to listen to them argue. They were equally matched. They respected each other’s intellect, but they hated each other with a passion. Buckley was a Fascist-leaning conservative ball of hatred with a giant ego. Vidal was a self-contradictory Commie-pinko bastard child of liberal chaos with an equally giant ego. I never agreed with either of them on anything, but their debates taught me so much about life and politics that I became a dyed-in-the-wool moderate because of them. They were the key evidence backing up the theory that you needed two sides in the political argument to hammer out good ideas of solid worth. And, though I didn’t trust either side of the argument fully, I always trusted that both were basing their ideas on facts.
When I was young I identified as a Republican like my father, and thought George Will was a reasonable opinion-leader. After all, a man who loves baseball can’t be a bad guy.
Then along came Richard Nixon and the faith-shaking lies of Watergate. The media began to be cast as the villain as they continued to show the violence and horrors of Vietnam on TV and tell us about campus unrest and the terrible outcomes of things like the Kent State Massacre. The President suggested routinely that the media was not using facts as much as it was using opinions to turn people away from the Nixon administration’s answer to the problems of life in the USA. I tried to continue believing in the Republican president right up until he resigned and flew away in that helicopter with his metaphorical tail between his legs (I am trying to suggest he was a cowardly dog, not that I want to make a lewd joke about poor Dick Nixon… or is that Little Dick Nixon, the man who let me down?)
And then along comes Ronald Reagan, the man acting as a “Great President” because he was a veteran actor and knew how to play the part. And with him came Fox News.
Roger Ailes, a former adviser to Nixon, got together with media mogul Rupert Murdoch, a man who would commit any crime necessary to sell more newspapers, and created a news channel that would pump out conservative-leaning propaganda that would leave Joseph Goebbels envious. I make it a rule to only listen to them and their views on anything when I feel the need to get one-foot-hopping, fire-spitting mad about something. So, since, I am a relatively happy person in spite of a long, hard life, you can understand why I almost never watch Fox News. They are truly skilled at making me mad and unhappy. And I suspect they do the same for everyone. They deal in outrage more than well-thought-out ideas.
News media came under a cloud that obscured the border between facts and partisan opinions. And conservatives seemed to have a monopoly on the shouty-pouty angry news. So, I began to wonder where to turn for a well-reasoned and possibly more liberal discussion of what was politically and ethically real. I found it in the most surprising of places.
I turned to the “Excuse me, this is the news” crews on Comedy Central where Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were busy remaking news reporting as a form of comedy entertainment. It is hard work to take real news and turn it into go-for-the-chuckles statements of fact that make you go, “Hmm, that’s right, isn’t it?” Stewart and Colbert consistently examine how other news organizations hurl, vomit forth, and spin the news, and by so doing, they help you examine the sources, get at the truth, and find the dissonance in the songs everyone else is singing. And these are very smart men. As I said, the intellectual work they do is very difficult, harder than merely telling it like it is. I know because I have tried to do the same myself. And is it really “fake news”? It seems to me like it is carefully filtered news, with the poisons of propaganda either surgically removed, or neutralized with antidotes of reason and understanding.
So, Mickey listens to comedians to get his news. Is that where you expected this article to end up? If not, where do you get your news?