Read Less, Know Less

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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.

 

21 thoughts on “Read Less, Know Less

    • It’s exceptionally hard to get printed newspapers where I live. For a few years we got the Post, but they stopped delivering it. Then we got Harriburg’s Patriot News but they stopped delivering it. We’ve toyed with the Gettysburg Times now and again, but they don’t deliver it early enough to be useful and 90% of the content is small town gossip. You can drive to grocery store every morning to get a paper, but by the time I’m ready to leave the house, I’ve already read Newser. Sigh!

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  1. This is the truest and most depressing thing ever. I guess it helps a tiny bit knowing there are others out there who feel the same. I hope it changes at some point.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree, so much dumbing down of our society beginning in public schools, continuing on in the news media which seems to only parade celebrities as if those stories had any substance. I don’t watch/read the news anymore, it seems the newspapers are bought and censored. A critical mass of disinformation from all sides, some real information leaks through and we’re forced to be like detectives, shifting through the reality that’s presented to us.

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    • I think few people act like detectives. Most of us just see what we want to see. I’m sorry to say I’m as bad as everyone else. For the most part I’ve created my narrative and then surrounded myself with people and media that support it.

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  3. I almost had to applaud from my recliner while reading your rant, Jeff. The scary part is, it’s tough to find unbiased news anymore, but NOT reading/watching contributes to the dumbing down of America. All of my grandchildren are biracial. I tend to go from calm to frantic in an instant when I read about the built-in biases that happen every day in the news. This news probably did not make it as far west as you live but in Lancaster County, a (middle-aged white) judge was stopped for tailgating a policeman driving in an unmarked car. The judge got out of his car, stormed back to confront the officer and told him to look up his registration immediately so his identity would be known to the cop. The policeman left him off with “Have a nice day, judge.” People commented that he would have been shot if he were a young man of color, angrily approaching a policeman.

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    • That sense of entitlement from law enforcement from cops to congress is a big part of our problem. They just don’t get it. I know that many white people don’t understand the threat that people of color are under all the time. My last traffic stop went so awry that if I was black i’d have been arrested or shot. Luckily I just look like some idiot suburban dad.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Same here Jeff, except I looked a soccer mom. I was so scared, cop was yelling and screaming at me, and made sure I kept my hands on the steering wheel. Had I been another race, I probably would have been beat up on the freeway. I too, need to buckle down and subscribe to a news source. I tried the NYT and WSJ and I never read it! Will give it another shot!

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  4. After somewhat a hiatus of WordPress. I put some time aside to get back on it. I have missed out on a lot of your posts and so did a quick scroll and stop and this is the first one I came to. What a read – I’ve definitely missed your words. I rarely read or watch the news as it was either making me sad, annoyed or angry and feeling extremely helpless. I find out what is happening through friends on social media and often something will catch my eye which I will look into, wanting to get an objective view. I really can’t imagine what living in America would be like – I recently got drawn to a story about Amber Guyger and her murdering an innocent black man in his own home. I was speechless throughout it and then felt helpless and sad and annoyed and angry. Looking forward to catching up on your other posts 🙂

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