When I first started following politics, which was the 1960 campaign, you got all your information from two sources: a national newspaper and one of three television networks. There was nothing else.
Oh, there were other sources for news, but nobody took things like the tabloids or radio seriously – tabloid like the Daily Mirror were read for the results of the Daily Double at the track; we referred to the radio (which was just AM by the way) as the ‘crime report.’
In my house, the national newspaper was The New York Times, and the TV network was CBS. Every evening my father came home from work around 6:00 or so, sat down in his living-room easy chair and read the Times, then at 6:30 the CBS National News went on, and then it was time to eat.
What did we talk about at the dinner table? The results of any school tests that day were reviewed, and this was followed by some comments by my father about some news event which was covered either by The Times or on CBS or both.
What this meant in terms of knowing what was going on outside of the front door of our home was that we were entirely dependent on two old, white men: James Reston of The New York Times and Walter Cronkite of CBS.
That was it. And nobody questioned the fact that what the average adult in the United States knew about political events was entirely dependent on what two men said or wrote every day. If you didn’t watch Cronkite, you could watch David Brinkley on NBC or Harry Reasoner on ABC. If you lived in New York and didn’t want to read The New York Times, you could read the Herald Tribune.
But no matter which TV news show you watched, no matter which newspaper you read, you were still getting all your information about what was going on in the world from a very finite and small source pool.
Now you would think that today, with a gazillion digital news venues, with 24-hour cable, with video, YouTube, and every other interactive technology, that our ability to tap into all these resources would make us better informed. I’m not so sure that this is the case at all. In fact, I’m going to argue that the opposite is true, and that the digital superhighway has resulted in the transmission of less, rather than more real news.
We receive a lot more messaging today than we used to receive – true. But what we are receiving is basically fake news. It’s either put out there to sell something or it’s put out there because someone wants to tell you what they think or what they want you to believe.
But that’s not news. Because news is what’s new, what has happened since yesterday and what makes what happened yesterday different from what happened before.
Take a look at the digital version of The New York Times. Now take a look at today’s print edition. Notice the difference? The print edition is news. The digital edition is mostly op-eds with, and this is the critical point – room for viewers to create an interactive response.
You see, the whole point of the internet is to create ‘communities’ based on liking or disliking similar things. Which is not, by the way, what Marshall McLuhan meant when he talked about how the medium of TV was also the message.
Then there’s another issue about current-days news which needs to be discussed, which is the fact that the men and women who report the news and considered to be the know-it-alls when it comes to telling the rest of us what’s going on happen to be so young that it’s simply not possible that they can really make informed judgements about how to analyze the information which comes across their desks. Chuck Todd, who ran the flagship NBC news show, Meet the Press until he was recently canned, was eight years old when Reagan was elected the first time. His replacement, Kristen Welker, was four years old when Reagan was sworn in.
These two pundit experts weren’t out of college when the Berlin Wall came down. How in God’s name can they have the slightest degree of understanding or perspective about political events happening today?
Don’t get me wrong. Walter Cronkite informed us with the proper amount of gravitas that one of our warships, the U.S.S. Maddox, had been attacked by North Vietnam. For all his knowledge and experience, when the government issued a totally false official statement about what happened in the Tonkin Gulf, Cronkite repeated the statement without so much as blinking an eye or raising an eyebrow.
What all this proves is that the use of smoke signals as a communication device by the various plains tribes was probably as effective a method for informing everyone about what needed to be known as the digital technologies that we use today.
Oh well, oh well. Inflation fell to 1 percent last month, but we all know that the country is about to collapse, right?