News is both a lens to glimpse and a filter to understand the world. The more I read the American mainstream news, the less I trust it. I find it to be incredibly jingoistic, parochial, uncritical of power, and generally disdainful toward both the rights of humanity and Mother Nature. Mainly, I find American mainstream news to lack critical capacity for analysis of root causes and the views of the anthropological Other, especially if that Other is a foreigner.
I know that I should bother reading an occasional US newspaper online, but I generally find it to be a misuse of my time. The amount of dross I have to wade through to find the information that I require is just too overwhelming. The opinion columns infuriate me at their blinkered tendentiousness and the news itself contains such limited analysis and discussion of the past, that I am let to my own devices when trying to truly understand an issue and its roots.
Sadly, I have come to rely more on my own analysis than that of the reporters, which is rather dangerous because I have such limited understanding of any individual issue. I have developed a world view and tend to see everything through my own lens, but I have such limited confidence in the way that American news is manufactured that I find my own preconceived conceptions to be more reliable than the corporate lens which filters most American news. After reading Chomsky and Herman’s Manufacturing Consent, I now approach American mainstream news like American fast food. I only consume it when there is no other alternative and in limited amounts. Frankly, it frightens me and I have purposely decided to limit my exposure to the toxic stuff. Like fast food, I don’t trust where it comes from and how it is manufactured and am terrified of what it does to me in the long term.
Is this avoidance of the American mainstream press rational? Probably not, but it takes too much intellectual and emotional energy for me to read the mainstream press. It is simply too draining for me to spend hours each day, analyzing the bias and the holes in each article. There is useful information for me to chew on, but digesting it into a form which makes sense to me is exhausting and I don’t seem to have the reserves to do it any more. Mostly, I can deal with the welter of negative emotions which the mainstream press provokes. I rage at the idiocy and blinkered perspectives I find peppered through the newspaper. If I read another opinion piece questioning the anthropogenic nature of global warming I will tear my hair out in rage. If I am forced to read another paean to American militarism and the “good” we are doing in the world with our martial exploits, I will start screaming “Gringo go home!”, just as loudly as any Chavista or Masista.
I given up even glancing at the web sites for American mainstream news. Now I only glance through Alternet or an occasional Z-Net article to figure out what is going on in the world. Mainly I listen to DemocracyNow, since it takes less energy to listen than to read. The signal to noise ratio is significantly better in the leftist alternative press, but mostly it doesn’t alienate and drain me like the American mainstream press. It is incredibly taxing to maintain a critical leftist perspective on the world, when you constantly have to analyze everything for its bias against that perspective. I still would like to pride myself on my independence of thought, but lately I find myself less occupied with searching for “truth”, and more worried about just maintaining my own sense of sanity and self. The alternative press reaffirms my beliefs, while the mainstream press just beats me down and exhausts me.
In a way it worries me that I no longer read the mainstream press, because I fear becoming just as bad as the American religious right or the Rush dittoheads, whose ignorance stems from their decision to limit their news to sources aligned with their world view. I know that I should be reading the mainstream press, if only to occasionally do a check on the perspectives I’m constantly imbibing from the leftist alternative press. Mostly, I need to read the tiresome mainstream, because I’m limiting my access to information. The alternative press is incredibly limited in its scope and size, so it only covers a rather limited set of issues. If I really want to know what is happening in my homeland, I need to read the mainstream press even when it makes me hold my nose in disgust at times.
Occasionally, I worry that I have become just as dogmatic in my beliefs as the people who I most despise. Have I become so intolerant in my world view, that I can no longer see the other side of the argument? Have I grown so inflexible that I can no longer see contrary evidence which questions my preconceptions? I hope not, but I’m not convinced that reading the mainstream will help quell my intolerances and point out any contrary evidence when it arises. The mainstream press is just too sloppy in its reporting to make the kind of telling arguments which are likely to convince me. Its presentation of data is too limited and its arguments are simply not rigorous enough to satisfy my objections. To shake my foundational beliefs, I will need more than the pap proffered by the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, NPR, et al.