While watching “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” during the year-in-review show, one of the reporters (it was either Bernard Goldberg of Jon Frankel) made the comment we as a country do not care about news or the real issues. He then made an interesting observation – “We are the United States of Entertainment.” Last night on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” a Palestinian American reporter named Rula Jebreal, who may be one of the best guests I have seen on the show, made the comment about the US – we are one of the most highly entertained and least informed countries in the world.
These two quotes are so very telling. America does not have the patience to be well-informed and some choose venues of news that lightly cover issues of import, but even worse, misinform or disinform in a Machiavellian sort of way. Fox News would be Exhibit A for the last two categories of misinformation, as they do not resemble a credible news source anymore. They have been more propaganda than news, but they have lately gone postal on some of the stuff they have been running. Yet, there are many Americans who never read or watch news, unless it is about sports or entertainment. So, they would be representative of the new normal in America. We are the United States of Entertainment.
By being so ill-informed, we easily panic about things that we need not panic over. Bill Maher made this observation on the same show last night, the newscasters make us panic over everything, but are overlooking the obvious things we should panic over. He made a keen observation saying we should be panicked over climate change. To prove his point, Michele Caruso-Cabrera, a conservative bent reporter (by the way, why must reporters have a bent?), started blathering about not believing in global warming because Al Gore sold one of his businesses to an Arab interest. What in the hell does that have to do with anything? Gore does not personify global warming, he just helped make it more of a known problem. What happens to Gore does not affect the rising sea level or increasing numbers of forest fires, droughts and floods.
In one of my favorite movies, “The American President” with Michael Douglas as the president, his character made the comment which I will paraphrase – America is advanced citizenship. You have to want it real badly. It means letting someone shout at the top of their lungs against the very thing you have been shouting at the top of yours in support. It means the flag has to be more than a symbol. It means people have the right to burn that flag in protest over grievances. This is one of my favorite lines about America that reveals our greatness as a country.
Yet, to the point made by this fictional president, we have to want it real badly. We have to be more informed citizens. Jebreal’s follow-up comment on Bill Maher last night, is you have the most powerful military in the world. She added you owe it to the world to be informed. So, what do we do about it? Today is supposed to be day of citizenship, a National Day of Service. And, on Martin Luther King Day, an African-American President will be sworn in for the second time. This more than anything else we could do represents that America is the land of opportunity. So, on this day of service let’s commit to do several things which should not be hard to do in the greater schemes of things.
– Listen to each other more. Then ask questions about why someone believes the way they do about an issue. Try not to judge. A good example is the Affordable care Act. It is far from perfect, but has already done some good things and will do more. Yet, many have been told to be against and cannot articulate why. If you share some of the good things that it does, people may warm up to it a little.
– Read and watch reliable sources of news. I personally watch BBC World News America and the PBS Newshour. Their reporters are more informed and the subject matter experts are just that. Read varying points of view as well. Do not only read or listen to people who cocoon themselves with people who feed them what they believe.
– Try to understand the source of information. Here is a simple example. The NRA, Defense Industry and Fossil Fuel Industry are three of the most powerful lobbyists groups in the US. The make a lot of money off legislative decisions. So, they have a vested interest in the outcome. At best, they are subjective on related issues. So, study more closely data from those entities supporting their arguments.
– Try to understand the context of things. Anyone can be made to look stupid if a quote is pulled out of context. Also, note when something was said. Someone saying something for shock value as a youth is far different from someone saying it as a 45-year-old. Also, my friend Amaya reblogged an article written by Mayor Cory Booker while at Stanford. If you only read the first part, you would have said he is bigoted against gays. Yet, the point of the article was his epiphany that he was wrong in his earlier bigotry and had changed.
– Talk about news around the dinner table. Encourage your kids to voice an opinion and read more about what is going on. Help them understand others’ points of view. Dr. Wayne Dyer calls this “defending the absent.” As a parent, I love it when teachers ask the kids to read the paper and find an article of interest.
Folks, I realize fully life is short and we crave entertainment. Yet, we have many who do not have the same options and opportunities as we do. So, we must be informed. We owe to ourselves, we owe it to our neighbors, we owe it to fellow Americans and we owe it to our fellow human beings on this planet.
I love how you encourage people to listen to diffrent points of view. Defending the absent is a beautiful philosophy. Another great, thoughtful post. 🙂
Many thanks. I have missed your posts and comments while you were away. I hope your travel were rejuvenating. Take care, BTG
Work is still intense and will be for a few more months, but I do feel like I got a bit of a break, which was sorely needed. Missed you and the crew, though and am glad to be back in the saddle!
With all of the ways we can inform ourselves, with basically all of human knowledge available at the click of a button, we often only seek information that reinforces our own world view and quickly discount anything to the contrary. If only we were more scientific in our thinking, and less emotionally attached to our own opinions.
Amaya, well said. If people agree with your point of view, no matter how inane, it is a form of validation. Thanks for reading and commenting, BTG
… “Listen to each other more. Then ask questions about why someone believes the way they do about an issue. Try not to judge.”…
I love ya BTG, but, that is insanity. Why do you think you have that large lump of neurological tissue at the end of your neck if NOT to judge? Sometimes the reason people “believe the way they do” is… their nuts, or, they have an evil agenda and they are just pretending, or, they are sociopaths, or, they are just plain stupid, or, they have been cleverly dissociated from an objective reality. Only “sometimes” are they right, or, even rational. But… trying not to judge is the short road to extinction.
I think it should read…. “Listen to each other more. Then ask questions about why someone believes the way they do about an issue. Then, try your best to JUDGE well and be prepared to act on your judgements… or, get the hell out of the way.”…
Thanks for the good read
Mrs. N, thanks for reading and offering your revision. Of course, we all judge. My point is to let the person talk and ask probing questions. Maybe I should have used the term “don’t be vocal with your judgment as you listen to what they have to say.” Once you have heard it, then you can offer your opinions and judgment. As you note, there are some you cannot change and you must choose your battles. Sometimes, the best decision is to vote with your feet and walk away. People want to be heard and if you let them share what they think, they may be willing to hear what you have to say. Maybe not, as you correctly note. I have an old boss who use to say “you have two ears and one mouth, so use them in that proportion.” Many, many thanks for offering your comments. BTG
I’m with Mrs N here: judgment is an essential part of our humanity and as Arendt pointed out the Nazis would never have grown as powerful as they did if the German people had been more “judgmental.” But your distinction is an important one: suspend judgment until you have heard all the evidence.
Thanks Hugh. I always value your counsel and your ability to use philosophers and authors to enlighten us with your points.
you and hugh both have the ability to make me chuckle at unexpected times. today it was this: “What in the hell does that have to do with anything?:”
the only thing better would for that to have televised, and you soberly looked at the camera and stated those words!
i’m grateful that both of you keep me informed.
Anytime I can be mentioned with our favorite professor, I feel honored. Those were probably the words I uttered when she said her comment about Gore on Bill Maher.