I was a newshound. Everyone was. As a young adult living in Washington, DC, news was hard to avoid. This was the early nineties, the rise of Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. Articles about politics were hot. I lived on Capitol Hill. That’s what they call the neighborhood that extends east of the Washington Capitol, the place where Congress makes our laws (or used to make our laws, before all new laws were executive orders).
In the nineties, what was considered “Capitol Hill” was expansive. My house, a full mile from the Capitol, was situated on a middle-class street of African American families. People trying to live their lives sandwiched between the idealized Washington as seen on TV of senators, lobbyists and high-end restaurants, and the gritty, real-life Washington of boarded up houses, open-air drug markets and drive-by shootings.
My friends and I, the ones who rented this house, were gentrifiers. We thought of ourselves as pioneers, pushing farther into Northeast DC than our yuppie kin. Really, we were scammers. Privileged, college educated, suburban white folk securing cheap rent while co-opting half a block of street parking with our five cars and unthinkingly raising the rents for those around us.
In today’s era of internet news with three-hour news cycles and bonus points for the outlet that releases a story first, it’s hard to feel reverent about any daily news publication. The focus is on simply delivering information—hopefully accurate information, but unfailingly fast information. In the nineties and before, articles were crafted. Because the life of a printed newspaper article was at least twenty-four hours, accuracy and quality matter.
Each lunchtime, I would spend a full hour (sometimes more) devouring the Washington Post. Political News: the increasing polarization of our society, the topics and the personalities that threatened to divide us as a nation. The Features: well researched and well written. Pieces on fitness or clothing or restaurants or real estate, informative and enjoyable. Local News: primarily focused on the out-of-control drug trade and its accompanying violence, calculating the daily body-count as DC solidified its moniker of the murder capital of the nation. And the Sports: I’m now and have always been completely uninterested in baseball, football, basketball and hockey. But I’m interested in people, and the Post always included human interest stories that explored the lives of athletes.
In the twenty-five years since I’ve gone from full engagement in the news to almost zero. My relationship with the news industry is in shambles. Currently, my feed is Google News. I’m treated to headlines from all the great news outlets from the New York Times to the Gossip Cop. Google News purports to know my interests and only delivers the articles that matter to me. What I wind up with is a narrow wedge of what’s going on in the world. Every day I’m offered stories about the Beatles and Meghan Markle and infectious diseases, but I’m rarely offered an article of international importance.
And then when an important headline actually catches my eye, I click the link, where I encounter a paywall. The Post, the Times (NY & LA), the Tribune all want me to pay for my news. If I paid for them all, I’d be broke, so instead, I pay for none. What I’m left with is CNN, NPR and Politico.
About a year ago, I clicked a link to a site called Newser. It offers a brief, well-written synopsis of stories developed by other news organizations. Their tag-line is Read Less Know More. Reading Newser articles, I can get the gist of what’s happening in the world, and if I need more information, there’s often a link to the source article. I’ve been happily reading Newser ever since.
This morning, while looking at Newser on my phone, the comments section caught my eye. When I read on my PC, the comments are buried deep beneath a couple of rows of links. On my phone, they were right below the article. So today was the first time I ever read the Newser comments.
Jesus! Here’s the first one I read:
Headline: Researchers eradicated HIV from the DNA of 9 infected mice
Comment: As a true environmentalist, I say stop trying to counteract Mother Nature’s means of population control. Some of these diseases are humanity’s only hope at getting population under control and saving our precious planet.
I don’t know why I expect civility on the internet anymore. Everyone’s an asshole. Some of these diseases… Which diseases? The ones that strike people of color and gays.
Tomorrow is America’s Independence Day, the Fourth of July. I read today that the number of Americans proud to be American is steadily declining. And why not. Hate and vitriol directed at the other half of the citizenry are now the norm. We all despise half the country. Americans can’t even have a conversation without pointing fingers and shouting.
Caution: this is where I point my finger and shout. My blog, my rant.
Our presidential policies are backed by racism against anyone whose primary language is Spanish. Today I read an article about a black hospital patient who, while taking a walk with his wheeled IV stand, was arrested for trying to steal medical equipment. Blacks are routinely killed by police when simple encounters go astray. The white officers involved never seem to receive penalties. When Justine Diamond, a white woman, startled a black officer and was shot and killed, the officer involved was found guilty of manslaughter. And half the nation is up in arms when black athletes decline to stand during the National Anthem.
Love-it-or-leave-it is what people say. That same phrase could have been hurled at the American Revolution patriots that led the colonial breakaway from tyrannical England. Possibly one day in a distant future the names of “radicals” like Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe, both angry blisters on Trump’s big toe, as well as countless others fighting for equality and justice, will stir feelings of patriotism alongside the names Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton and Patrick Henry.
Our era of open disgust with the opposing political party seemed to get started with the rise of Clinton and Gingrich. It is rampant and growing. People find shortcuts to information like I do on Newser. They lash-out, drop a venomous comment in their wake and keep on marching to the music they choose to hear. We’re all half-educated, isolating ourselves from people and information counter to our beliefs.
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.
Happy Independence Day, America.