Like many, I target-watch TV. Netflix. Launch the show I want to see. Play. Show over. TV off. Not-so flat-screened object stands idle until the hour of TV-time strikes the next day.
Election Night 2020, however, required a new approach. Living abroad, I don’t have access to English-speaking CNN so I “sling-boxed” it. With my brother in the US on Zoom and my computer set prominently on my favorite table in the kitchen, a bottle of single malt was ready to soothe my nerves.
I switched on CNN’s “Election Night coverage” at 7 PM EST and it began.
Hours dripped past. Then they sprinted onward only to get tangled up in a photo-finish, that while clear and obvious to all, became the object of Republican photo-shop experts trying their best to edit out Joe Biden’s victory in front of our eyes, in real time.
It was precisely this that almost broke me and made me say “f” all of this lunacy, time to move to Greenland — or perhaps, Iceland or Estonia. Without stating the obvious about the political mess being caused thanks to the current president and enabling Republicans, without assessing how some parts of America became a dystopia already — definitely historians will look back and try to assess just how much The Walking Dead affected the United in the 2000’s — I want to share my experiences of how I lost myself in the cable-news rabbit hole. Barely finding my way out, it left me raw, jumpy, agitated and in need of a cleanse.
I am cleansing now.
On November 8th, at the eleventh hour, prior to going to bed earlier than usual after days of little or no sleep, I put myself into a all media black out. I remain in this blackout now. A daily imbiber of The New York Times and The Washington Post, those painstaking days led me to choose a nicer, a sunnier place called: the state of being uninformed. Those five days of being CNN’d made me feel like I usually do after a night of a lot of beer — I don’t care if I ever have another beer ever again. But I always do, just in ever smaller amounts.
It should be noted. CNN did truly an amazing job covering the election for the first 24 to 36 hours. The restrained professionalism impressed me. They didn’t rush to call states for either candidate. Explaining everything so thoroughly void of conjecture and gloom-and-doom, if one had been asleep during sophomore year civics class then the election-desk team was educating us.
The coverage was void of any political bias despite the obvious desire for, say, Tapper and Cooper to rip into the Republicans and Trump. They delivered their words with an unwavering journalistic timbre.
Then It Happened
When the unthinkable, and readily-expected reactions from Trump began, the “cable news” effect kicked in. The doom appeared. Speculation that armed protesters could hit the streets seeking to put a violent end to what used to be a truly American demonstration of democracy filled the air.
Glued to the screen and shooshing anyone who dared speak too loudly, the expectation that sneaking back home through the forests of Canada, camouflaged and moving under the cover of darkness, narrated my dreams during the occasional bouts of sleep.
Emotions running high, worn in plain site for all to see, from time to time I would pop over to NPR and the Associated Press for “breaks” from the “news.”
But none of it was new as I would find out by day 4 on this journey. Speculative and based on past and anecdotal conjecture, the boring stuff, reality was being glossed over. When it became harder to spin nothing and sensationalize the past, CNN began reporting on how Fox News was reporting on the lunacy unfolding. They were reporting on how others were reporting — and while certainly news-worthy given Fox’s fanning of the conspiracy flames — it just seemed to be slamming fists against the obvious.
See, they are doing it again…let’s all be aghast and make sure you stay tuned to more historical…
This reporting literally raised my blood pressure to dangerous levels because the “fourth estate” is an absolutely integral part of democracy; and, thanks to CNN’s well-spoken and mild-mannered news delivery people, all I could see and hear were the televisions in places like Mississippi and Alabama and Ohio and Iowa blaring out the lies of the president; supported wholeheartedly by Fox News anchors backed by really amazing multimedia, production effects.
This is How Too Many in America Feel
I am an educated consumer of world events. Unless it’s an overnight coup or some other tragedy, I seldom refer to commercial news sources to reach a satiated state of “informedness.” Holding a Masters’s in International Affairs from Columbia University, I was in a sense trained how to follow patterns that help me not just understand current events in the world but at times even predict them.
Nevertheless, those five days, however, almost broke me. Agitated, anxious and popping all-natural nerve-soothers with herbs usually used in “catnip” — Novopassit, it is called in Russia — I lowered my coffee intake, put the single malt away and went media dark. This is where I still am. Returning to my writing about longer-term issues like income inequality and using my thousands of books to support my arguments, I feel better.
I have that luxury, however, because I live in a place where that constant drip-drip-drip of hysteria being pumped through the air 24/7, 365 days a year, year after year after year after year does not exist — well it does but it’s about another country’s political choices and that’s their prerogative.
Fox News is pure vileness and CNN lives, breaths and flourishes because Fox is so vile — the two play off each other and need each other. The Ying and Yang of America’s broken truth, our lost generation.
CNN does strive to report truth and reality but then falls back into its we need to create ratings and make money mode. Then the drip of hysteria commences. Fox News, well, I am not going to get into it — still trying to remain calm, still not in a place where I cannot guarantee that a flashback won’t happen.
This is not good, people. The method by which the majority of Americans learn about reality is dangerously flawed. The news used to be thirty minutes or an hour that rounded out a day, easing Americans into a night of television viewing, reading, game-playing, etc. Now, people are glued to every and any screen that conveys the hyperventilating interpretations of hidden agendas all for the purpose of selling and buying more.
Are you a Pepsi or Coke drinker? Are you a McDonald’s or Burger King person? Are you a Ford or Chevy person? Are you a CNN or Fox News person?
We are nation that chooses sides — favorite teams (Yankees), beaches (Manasquan), beers (tastes great, less filling). Trained to always think in an us versus you’guys mode, somehow we need to get back to arguments over red sauce or vinegar-based, dogs or cats, pork roll or Taylor Ham (a New Jersey thing).
We have to simplify and being “not informed” is actually — probably — better nowadays then the opposite.