BOSTON (CBS) – In the new book “The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption” Clay Johnson illustrates with his use of many credible examples that “just as junk food can lead to obesity, junk information can lead to new forms of ignorance.” He is definitely onto something. We surf, search and read that which tends to please us, looking for the slant that jibes with our own worldview, whether we admit it to ourselves or not. Emotional eating is a term most people understand. Emotionally driven information, our desire to ingest news about a serious topic that satisfies us strikes me as a dangerous development in this not so brave new world. Infotainment is everywhere and I’m cool with a lot of it. Celebrity scandal is nothing new (not quite as juicy as during Hedda Hopper’s days of course) and since the beginning of recorded history human oddities or bizarre behavior have attracted our attention. A glance at the Kardashians or the contract terms of a Peyton Manning ends up as perfect water cooler fodder. Do people even stop long enough to gather around a water cooler? I digress. Pop culture coverage is not the crux of the media problem. But the problem we have is a major one.
In this country, and most other democracies, a rash of political correctness combined with never-ending self-flagellation has taken over the news game, to the extent that more folks are making news by ‘stepping in it’ than ever before; and the tirade of PC explosions leads to the inevitable nonstop stream of apologies. There is so much mea culpa floating in the air that actual news events that tend to really matter are lost in the mist. This is happening across the board, with all political perspectives taking part. Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, the major TV networks, most newspapers—each offers its own slant on things with two designs in mind –increase audience and revenue. Duh! No surprise. But it is the slow hundred year creep of news bias and the failure to present solid truthful information that should have us all, the ones willing to read and listen, very worried.
One international story this past week points out the danger when respect for true journalism ebbs. It is a danger that affects our sense of fairness, truth and even our physical safety.
Horrible terrorist atrocities, and that’s exactly what they should be called, took place in Southern France last week—the assassination of several French paratroopers followed a few days later by the brutal murders of Jewish school children and a rabbi. Coverage by many local and international reporters was either shoddy by practice or vague by design. The attacks were called “random” in nature by nearly all media outlets hours after the both shootings. Few if any mentions were made of a possible motive for such attacks against Jewish victims, or the fact that the killings were carried out in textbook terrorist style (the gunman firing rounds from a motorcycle, modus operandi of Iranian sponsored terror). It took a shootout with the self-confessed terrorist Mohammed Merah before any links with Muslim extremism were broached. He communicated for hours with police before the final gun battle citing his proud allegiance with Al Qaeda, his desire to avenge injustices waged against Muslims in the Middle East. The stories I read the day after his death at the hands of French anti-terror squads suggested no link with any terrorist organization. Merah was portrayed as a lone attacker without guidance, instruction or assistance from any terror cell or leadership. The notion that he wasn’t influenced by terrorists to commit these acts is laughable. This young killer was a fanatic, inspired to commit murder due to an extreme Islamic doctrine. Why won’t our media or that of Europe’s tell it like it is? As of this writing his brother and other possible conspirators are being detained and questioned. Bottom line is this. Our news is more often than not softened and molded to fit an agenda. And with our glut of information there is even shoddier reporting and bias. Therefore, it is more incumbent than ever for the intelligent among us to demand better from our journalists, to see a return to more objective reporting. You know the kind of news I refer to, where stubborn things called facts take precedence.
I tend to agree with author Clay Johnson that we are being force-fed information loaded with fatty, sugar laden, thought-clogging content that doesn’t do a mind or a body much good. But the responsibility also rests with us to say no, to seek out an alternative diet, one rich in truth, balance and freedom.
If the media are afraid or unwilling to call a vicious self-described Islamist who commits terror what he truly is (and this is one of dozens of similar incidents I recall over the past dozen years) then we’re in more trouble than we may imagine. I pray that it’s not too late, that there will still be time and room on the treadmill for all of us – members of the press and the public – to whip ourselves back into some sort of shape.