One hears a lot of talk these days about how jacked up our society happens to be. If you read this column even a little you know that I disagree with this. I don’t think that this the worst of times — quite the contrary in fact. Not, mind you, that we are without challenges. But whatever comes I think that we’ll figure out a way to deal with it and acquit ourselves well in the end. I’m quite confident in all of that.
One thing that I do not share optimism about is the state of the media in our society. Hard news is being been supplanted by opinion and attention-grabbing headlines above substance light copy. Most of the major news outlets, especially TV cable news, are little more than the analog version of click-bait.
I can’t watch Fox, CNN or MSNBC for more than just a few minutes. Most of what one sees on these outlets is not news at all, it’s opinion masquerading as news. Even reporters from these outlets, many of whom are very good, are often put in the position by hosts of producing opinions on the stories they are covering. Cable news largely seems much more preoccupied with beating down any ideology with which they disagree than trying to be objectively inform anyone.
Newspapers are better but only marginally so. I like the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal (I have subscriptions to all three) except for their editorial pages. Their social media feeds and alerts, which are dominated by opinion pieces rather than actual news, are so useless that I’ve turned them off.
I don’t much give a damn about what some 25-year-old alternative lifestyle maven who’s never lived outside of the East Coast thinks about people in Montana. I’m sorry, I just don’t. You show me one who’s been around enough to understand the difference between smart and wise and maybe I’ll change my mind. But don’t hold your breath.
In terms of news Social media is the worst — and you’d think that anyone with any savvy would understand this. Social media is not reality, it’s a gross distortion of reality. So why then do I commonly hear the phrase “reaction on Twitter” in the news when using that reaction to gauge nearly anything is generally worse than useless? Gauging the state of the world from Social Media is like figuring out what a majestic mountain meadow looks like from the bottom of a farm pond.
To be clear, I do not think that most people in the media: reporters, editors, producers, hosts, etc., get up every morning with the intent to spend their time being screw-ups. I think the fact that they misfire is due to pressure to generate revenue, to competition for being the first to break news, to a desire to be the next Woodward and Bernstein, and frankly to some incompetence.
I watched a host on TV just a few hours ago shake their head while listening to a report that the mother of the recent Texas mass-shooter had called the police a few months prior to last week’s tragedy to express concern about her son acquiring a weapon.
The mother did not express any concern about her son being up to no good, just questioned whether or not it was legal for him to own such a weapon — which it was. What are the police supposed to do? Yet the takeaway was “And once again we find that the authorities missed a chance to prevent a tragedy.”
How many calls like this do you imagine that police get every day? Are you suggesting that the police should spend their time investigating things that are legal and likely of no concern to anyone or, for instance, the dozens of domestic abuse calls that ought to be of concern to everyone? They can’t do both, so what are they supposed to prioritize? One shot in a million or an abuser who might be potentially a killer in cuffs almost every time?
I have no doubt that this cable host’s poorly drawn conclusion will be repeated over and over in coming weeks until the narrative in some circles becomes the Texas shooting could have been prevented if the authorities had just done their jobs. “Look at all of the warning signs missed!”
Forget about the family, friends and the killer himself, this is somehow on the police, or politicians, or policies that someone with a megaphone doesn’t like. Evidently the shooter himself is less important in this narrative than everyone else.
Along the same line I’m also disappointed in the media depiction of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s insensitive, yet not without merit, quote concerning the Texas shooting.
Now before I “disappoint” anyone this week let me state that I’m not that much a fan of Tyson. I’m sure that he’s a fine astrophysicist but as a science celebrity he’s got some issues. Among them was taking an egregious and unnecessary shot at a fellow Idaho State Journal columnist a few years ago in a classic case of punching down. Yo, Neil, I’m your huckleberry.
Nonetheless the point that Tyson was attempting to make, albeit clumsily, was that mass shootings, though tragic and terrible and unacceptable, are statistically not something that anyone should worry about. The odds of you, me or anyone that we know dying in a mass-shooting, despite the media hype, are so low that it’s just not going to happen.
If you want to live a long life don’t give up going to public places because you fear being shot, instead give up smoking, eat a healthy diet, get some exercise and marry someone who doesn’t want to make you kill yourself.
Good luck finding any of that below a headline.
Associated Press and Idaho Press Club award-winning columnist Martin Hackworth of Pocatello is a physicist, writer, consultant and retired Idaho State University faculty member who now spends his time happily raising three children, llama farming and riding mountain bikes and motorcycles.