Remember life years ago? It was a much simpler time. The stress of life wasn’t nearly as great as it is today and processing information was a much more streamlined and easy thing to do.
Like children, we got our information from a handful of sources that we trusted implicitly. We believed fantastical things and didn’t really stop to question whether or not what was being told us was a lie. We went about our daily lives thinking we had learned something but in truth, what we learned was either a lie or was not nearly the whole story.
Then we grew up.
I often hear about how it used to be from older generations. Their news sources were few, and their daily lives mainly revolved around their immediate circle of friends and family. Stability was much easier to come by. Then came the arrival of the 24-hour news cycle, and years after that, the internet.
The arrival of the internet heralded a massive shift in the way our society works, and not all for the better. With just a touch of a few buttons on a handheld device more powerful than space-faring vehicles that went to the moon, you can get practically anything to show up at your door within a few minutes. Any knowledge you lack is immediately filled in with a quick internet search on that same device. Where you had to wait to see what your old high school classmates were up to during a reunion, you can now hop on Facebook and see that they’re just as annoying as you remember.
We’ve never been closer together, knowledgable, and provided for, and we’ve never been more alone, ignorant, and spoiled.
But while the negatives are certainly showing, the internet has done something spectacular, and you have to wonder if the tradeoff was worth it.
But earlier today, I was watching Tom Brokaw’s interview with Stephen Colbert on the Late Show last night. Brokaw is always fun to watch because he, a Democrat, says things that aren’t always convenient for Democrats to hear. For instance, earlier today he expressed the feelings of all voters when he noted that when it came to the impeachment circus, his eyes glazed over.
But during his chat with Colbert, he lamented that media wasn’t as trusted as it used to be and that the internet has brought about a deluge of information that is often completely untrustworthy and incapable of being verified:
It was a big difference between now and social media. The fact is that this technological change — and I do believe that the people ought to have access to stating what they believe and what they want to be involved in, but we’ve lost control of it because you don’t know where it’s coming from, where it’s going, what the motivation is, and, so, when you see something, so many people believe it, ‘I believe that!’, and so much of it can’t be authenticated. That’s a huge difference between then and now. Doesn’t mean that those of us who are White House correspondents or in American journalism had all the answers but we worked hard at determining what in fact had happened, because we were liable for it at the end of the day, and the country paid attention to it, on that basis.
This was poignant to me. Brokaw seemed to be sad about the fact that during his time as a national reporter he was going above and beyond to get the facts of a story. I can commend him for that. Nowadays, it’s easy for many reporters with a bone to pick to see a tweet that may suggest wrongdoing by an opponent of theirs and they base their entire position in a story on that loose fact.
The saving grace of the internet is that while it may have brought about the knee-jerk news cycle, it also highlighted a problem that maybe Brokaw wasn’t aware of.
Bias dictates everything we do. Brokaw may have been on the phone for hours with various people trying to get the facts, but the instincts that lead him to seek certain people to call in order to ask certain questions he found pertinent were done so with the guidance of his bias. The internet has exposed much of our history to us, and we now see many aspects of his in hindsight that were incredibly one-sided when it came to telling stories.
Take Dan Rather, for instance, who was silent on the bugging of Martin Luther King Jr. by President Lyndon B. Johnson despite knowing about it back in the early 60s according to Accuracy In Media:
A secret FBI report, which included material obtained from bugging King’s hotel rooms, was circulated within the Executive Branch with the express approval of Bill Moyers who is now a commentator on Rather’s program. Moyers, an aide to LBJ at the time, said he saw nothing improper in this.
Although Rather knew about the tapes in 1964, he failed to follow through on what he now concedes was a “valid story.” Moreover, in his autobiography, he completely ignored the roles of Kennedy and Johnson in his discussion of the King surveillance. One wonders how Rather would have handled the story had it occurred during the Nixon or Reagan eras.
The Hoover Institution noted that the media profession was marked by a college degree and that even then, the colleges were dominated by leftist professors who drilled their ideology into their students. This created a hardline anti-war stance that was reflected in media reporting about the various wars America has fought:
Similarly, the media attention given to the New York Times’publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 reinforced the narrative of American crimes and bungling in Vietnam, even though the Department of Defense study ended in 1967, and so had nothing to say about the success of General Creighton Abrams in turning the war around after Tet and compelling the North to negotiate for peace in 1973. More recently, we have seen these same accusations of duplicity and incompetence in much of the coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq during the Bush presidency. Failures, mistakes, collateral damage, and casualties were highlighted, successes and heroism downplayed or ignored. Underlying the coverage, especially of the war in Iraq, was the narrative of a Vietnam-like “unjust” war sold to Congress and the American people with manufactured intelligence, and pursued to enrich corporate cronies of the administration.
Bias is nothing new in media, we just didn’t see it clearly until the advent of social media and the rise of the citizen journalist. Brokaw saying that “we lost control” is both accurate and telling. The mainstream media was no longer capable of defining the news cycle. Its long monologue had become a dialogue. Now, any lie or half-truth it tells is soon corrected. Any narrative it tries to sell meets immediate resistance in real-time.
We used to believe in a centrist media but like our belief in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, we’ve now matured as a species and see that we’ve been misled all along. While this wild west of the information age can be chaotic, the chaos is better than organized lies and corruption. At least now we have more of a chance of gleaning the truth.