Remember so well Uncle Walter’s signature, “that’s the way it is…” Only we have learned in many ways “that” wasn’t the way it was. The news has always been filtered, shaped and slotted into columns, inches or seconds/minutes by someone. Someone who had more access than we viewers did. Someone who decided for me what information I should need to conclude what Uncle Walter said was the way it is.
Today, Uncle Walter could not have the same trusted role. Some GI in Southeast Asia would be blogging about his experience, government leaks would hit the internet before they could be suppressed, “news” is 24 hours not 30 minutes during dinner. From my phone I can reach more people than Uncle Walter ever reached.
Today we say the news is sloppy, not accurate, fake, but the news has always been sloppy, not accurate, fake. We, the consumer, simply had no way of knowing just how sloppy, how inaccurate, how fake because others made decisions about what we would see and what we wouldn’t see.
President Obama says democracy needs a baseline of facts to operate on. The trouble with this statement is, who will determine what is a “fact”. What “facts” are relevant?Reality is not so ordered that 300 million people can look at an event and reach the same conclusions. 70,000 people watch the same football game and, other than the final score, no two of them will tell the exact same story of the outcome. You may say, the final score is the fact. Well, October 1990, Colorado beat Missouri by scoring on the last play of the game…it is in the official game stats as a Fifth Down play. Is the final score of that game the final fact?
Rather than democracy needing a baseline of facts handed to us by some unknown moderator, we need to learn how to evaluate information and make more informed conclusions about the meaning. We need shared values, respect for opinions and an openness to learning. Our schools seem to be more concerned about teaching young people one point of view, one “right” answer rather than teaching people how to evaluate information, discard what is not useful, and build upon what is useful. We teach scorn for those who don’t agree with our world view, that scorn finds its way into the “news” then we wonder why doesn’t everybody just agree with me?