I don’t know what someone means when they say “the media.” It’s often a categorical indictment: “It’s the media’s fault.” Or, “I don’t trust the media.” And I don’t get what the fuss is about; the notion that it’s impossible these days to figure out what’s really true. No it isn’t. It’s super easy. NewYorkTimes.com. Even the free version has all the headlines. Those headlines are true.
Sure, trying to figure out what’s true from my Facebook feed or a Reddit thread or the tons of free email coming at me; yeah, it’s hard to figure out what’s true. But if I’m serious about wanting actual facts, I have easy options.
There is a line on this chart called “Fact Reporting.” Anyone above the line: we can believe what these journalists and broadcasters report to us. These corporations stake their reputation on their integrity; in competition with each other and driven by their paying customers and advertisers to maintain very high standards.
I know that the New York Times is left-leaning. They actually tell us that on their editorial pages. And the Wall Street Journal has right-leaning opinions on their editorial pages. This does not mean they tell lies in their news. The very fact that these papers separate News from Opinion is part of their integrity. And you know what, even among the opinion pages of these publications you will not find intentional mis-statements of fact.
The thing is: we don’t wants facts most of the time. We want entertainment. We process volumes of entertaining media (most of it social) and then, all by ourselves, we decide which of it to believe. It’s an age-old human behavior. We love gossip and speculation and imaging what’s true. We’re very good at it. And it’s very fun.
Yet entertaining as it might be, national governance — as it happens — is really important; maybe more important than anything. The decisions that nations make, and have made before us, determine the life or death fates of us all.
I’m encouraging us to resist the easy way — where we sit passively and get spoon fed pleasant information — even though it’s fun. That leads to actually believing the pleasant information because that’s fun too.
When it comes to something serious like debating a fellow American, take the harder way and know what you are talking about. Get your facts from mainstream credible professional media. Or here’s another idea, ask your local librarian. Did you know that these people are professionally trained to help the general public find facts? Did you know that librarians are the most trusted occupation second only to nurses?
I don’t buy that The Media are to blame or The Media are categorically untrustworthy. All kinds of media are out there filling all kinds of market niches and wanting us to believe all kinds of things. Yet at the same time there really are institutions built for the specific purpose of bringing us facts. Thank God.