It’s an election year in the US. I’ve started thinking more about how much effort is put into influencing our opinions – not just by the political parties and individual campaigns but by all of the intertwined sources of information we consume. It seems like immediately after every debate or televised speech, some variation of the following comes out of my television:
“We’ll break it all down for you.”
“We’ll tell you how the candidates fared tonight.”
“Let’s dive into what this all means to you at home.”
“If you are just tuning in, here’s what you missed.”
Think about these statements objectively, outside of the news cycle.
Next time you hear similar phrases from your television, think how condescending and offensive they are. Yet, they’ve become part of the media lexicon. We’ve been completely dumbed down and collectively convinced somehow that political discourse is as complex as brain surgery, and we shouldn’t form our own opinions without “expert” guidance.
Imagine being in a doctor’s office, for example. If you are reading a copy of your child’s latest bloodwork report or looking at an MRI image or an x-ray, these would seem like perfectly benign and soothing things to say to you. The doctor or assistant is the trained expert, and they understand what they are looking at, and you are depending on their training and expertise to explain something that you are not trained to understand. “Annie’s bilirubin reading is slightly elevated. Let me explain what that means. ” That is a perfectly respectful and reasonable statement.
On the other hand, imagine that you and your spouse are in a parent-teacher meeting, and have just listened to the teacher’s account of your tweenager’s behavior and performance problems in school. At the end of her presentation, a guidance counselor you’ve never met says, “Let’s dive in to what this means to you at home.” I don’t know about you, but my immediate reaction would be something along the lines of, “Oh, we know what this means to us at home, thank you very much. We’re not idiots.”
There has been an entire cottage industry created that supports these “expert panels” that seem to be convened following any major event. It’s foolhardy to think that news outlets will ever go back to just returning to their regular programming…in many cases, their regular programming IS hour after hour of “expert” analysis. So, we owe it to ourselves and our fellow citizens (especially those who we regularly challenge, preach to, and offend on social media) to be more discerning about what are facts versus what is spin.
Now start to think about how intertwined the media and political campaigns are. Former candidates or their advisors are hired by networks to provide “expert” commentary. Reporters and political staff become close to each other in the course of their jobs and sometimes even get married to each other. Following every debate, there’s a formal “spin” room where the candidate and their teams go to explain to the media outlets what the candidate really meant or to try to set what they want the narrative to be about the candidate’s performance. It’s fine to listen to these “recaps” and “breakdowns” and “in-depth analyses” of what you just heard for our own entertainment – if we realize that very little if any of that commentary is dispassionate and truly without bias or agenda.
If you watch carefully, sometimes you’ll see media coverage from multiple sources somehow inexplicably, nearly miraculously, all start to use the same catch phrases within minutes of each other as regards whatever the day’s big story is. Do we really believe that each individual newswriter heard about a story, and just organically all came up with the same exact phrase on the same exact day? A person almost has to be willfully ignorant if they don’t question where the scripts are coming from, the messages seem so consistent and coordinated.
Give yourself more credit, and make sure you are forming your own opinion instead of letting it be formed for you. If you don’t hear something firsthand, it’s very hard to do that. Bite the bullet, pop some popcorn, watch debates and speeches yourself whenever you can, even if the speaker makes you tear your hair out. Try to be objective. Don’t be an unwitting participant in the Propaganda, Inc. machine.