Sunday, January 22, 2017

Media Influence

I sometimes comment on politics, but overall I like to stay away from the subject. Today, I just have one point I'd like to make.

Many people, both online and around the world, are treating today as though nuclear war is about to be unleashed. Many others are treating today as the dawn of a new era of prosperity for America. And while I've been openly vocal about the fact that I didn't (and still don't) support any of the candidates we were offered, I refuse to allow myself to give in to the fear-mongering of the left or buy into the hype of the right.

I don't claim to know what's going to happen. There are things that Trump has said that I like. There are other things he said that make me recoil in disgust. But as I watched about 5 or so minutes of the inauguration lunch, I was again reminded of just how little most of us realize the large part the media plays in our perceptions.

The station I stopped on was msnbc. I didn't choose that channel on purpose, but that's the one that came up. And in the 5 minutes I had it on, I heard two things that infuriated me. Two things that the average viewer probably thought nothing of. Two things that were said not out of some dedication to journalism but rather as veiled attempts to paint a specific image in the minds of the the people.

The first was just before the pastor came up to give his prayer. One of the anchors handling the broadcast said something about how the day had been going so far - I honestly forget what. But the other anchor chuckled and said, "Don't worry, we'll get through this together." With a nation already full of people terrified at the prospect of a Trump presidency, a statement like that only serves to enforce and justify those fears in the minds of his opponents. It's basically saying, "Hold on America, it's gonna be a rough ride!" And that creates fear. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to the present state of this country.

The second thing that was said came after the prayer. One of the anchors said, "It was certainly odd that, as Donald Trump took to the podium today, only then did the first drops of rain begin to fall." Again, they are painting a negative picture of a black cloud over Washington in the minds of viewers who are already panicked about what this president may or may not do.

To be clear, I don't like Trump. I didn't vote for him. And there is a part of me that is terrified about what he may or may not do in office. But I can't help but wonder how much of that fear has been fed to me and subsequently amplified by the media. Now some may think, "A couple of comments by news anchors aren't going to affect the views of people." I want you to know that they do. They most certainly do. Because it's not just a couple of comments. Those are only a couple of examples. This kind of behavior is prevalent in newscasts from all channels on all sides of the political spectrum. We don't know anything REAL about politicians or government except what we are allowed to know by the media. And every newscast, interview, talk show, etc. - they're all designed to paint a picture with a specific agenda. And while the American people are being FED lines like the two above, their views become stronger, their attitudes become harder, and conversation between the two sides becomes less and less productive.

And that's exactly what politicians and the media are doing to the American people. They're not CHANGING people's opinions, they're POLARIZING them. They've created an environment where healthy debate on any subject is not possible anymore. If you say you like Trump's stance on ANYTHING, you're labeled a misogynistic racist bigot. If you say you think Trump's attitude and behavior are dangerous, you're labeled as a social justice warrior and an idiot. On the whole, healthy conversation and debate between the two sides is largely ineffective now because neither side wants to hear what the other has to say. And while I say that the media is the driving force behind all of this, they are not the only ones to blame. We are just as much to blame for allowing ourselves to get to this point. We are just as much to blame for allowing complete strangers on a television program tell us what we should think. Strangers who are selling you a product (the news) and will do whatever it takes to bring you back. Viewer retention is what keeps these channels going. Each one has their target demographic, and of course they're going to tell that demographic what they want to hear. And they're going to avoid telling you want they don't want you to hear.

If Trump does something stupid, you can bet that Fox News will either glaze over it entirely or they'll try to spin it in a way that somehow makes it acceptable. If Trump does something good, CNN is going to either twist it to look horrible or they'll suddenly release a report on something ELSE horrible he's done to distract from the good thing. Either way, you're being told how to feel about something without ever realizing that you never had the opportunity to decide for yourself.

And that's the point I wanted to make today. Don't let the media tell you how to feel. Don't let the internet tell you how to feel. Don't even let your friends or family tell you how to feel. Take the time to think about the issues, the subjects at hand, and the events that take place. Take the time to discuss them with the people you trust the most, not some random talking heads on TV. And after you've fully explored and discussed the issues, take the time to form your own opinions and conclusions based on how you feel about the issue.

Most importantly, understand that not everyone is going to share your viewpoint - and that's OK. That doesn't mean they're bad people. It doesn't mean you're a bad person. It means we're all human, and we all have different experiences, knowledge, and emotions that lead us to form differing opinions. Instead of shouting down each other for disagreeing, it's time we start working together to understand each other. Because this culture of anger and resentment that we have created will not change until we as a society re-learn how to engage in healthy, honest, and civilized debate.

Now, anyone want to join hands and sing "We Are The World?" No? Just me? OK. Well, I'll be here waiting when you guys are ready.

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