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You Really Don’t Need Your TV Anymore

October 28, 2013

by J. Andrew Zalucky


There is no reason to rely on cable-TV news. None.

To anyone who longs for “the good old days” when three TV and Radio networks, along with a handful of newspapers, dominated the national news media, the only thing I can say is…have you lost your mind?

Like in music and other mediums, the internet has granted people an unprecedented amount of choice and has smashed the old barriers that walled-off consumers from alternative sources of information. Gone are the days when listeners would have to rely on a handful of major labels for the majority of the music they heard. Even in the 1980’s, when independent record labels like SST and Epitaph launched an underground revolution, it took a lot of luck to know that these options even existed. The internet has created a much larger audience by providing a path for more people to hear about new and lesser-known styles of music.

Whereas before you were either a complete nobody who played at some dreary county fair once a year- or you where a huge star known to audiences world-wide. Now people are more aware of the music scene as a multifaceted, complex universe with endless opportunities and places to go. To any of my fellow tri-state area residents, would any of you seriously choose, in today’s world, to listen to STAR 99.9 rather than use Spotify or Pandora? (If anyone under the age of 40 answers YES to that question, then may God help us all…)

In much the same way, this is also the case in journalism and the news media in general. Politically active Americans no longer need rely only on CBS, ABC, and NBC for their news. At any moment, I could just as easily go to Slate, The Atlantic, Reason, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, Al Jezeera, The Guardian, The American Conservative, and The Economist and gain a much more nuanced portrait of the day’s news. And if I wanted to, I could still turn on 60 Minutes or This Week to see what some of the more traditional outlets had to say.

In fact, according to Matt Yglesias, from a consumer standpoint, we are basically in a The Glory Days of American Journalism:

Just ask yourself: Is there more or less good material for you to read today than there was 13 years ago? The answer is, clearly, more…digital technology also makes it dramatically easier to produce the news. Charts and graphs can be manufactured and published in minutes. Public sector data, academic research, and think tank reports are at your fingertips, instead of gathering dust on random shelves. Email, instant messaging, and mobile phones make it easier to contact sources and collaborate with editors. Last but by no means least, websites don’t “run out of space.” We try not to publish bad articles, but we don’t decline to publish good ones on the grounds that they don’t fit. We don’t arbitrarily cut words to conform to a page-layout concept.

There is of course the important question of, with so many sources and blogs and commentators, who can you trust? How do you verify that journalists at a given outlet have done their fact-checking and due-diligence? The answer comes from the situation itself, it is the responsibility of every reader to hold news outlets accountable and decide on his or her own whether or not a given source can be trusted. This has always been the case, but having fewer sources and fewer voices makes this task more difficult and leaves readers off the hook for thinking for themselves. Why is this the case? Because when you have fewer, larger media outlets monopolizing the reporting and commentary of the day, the product itself becomes more susceptible to outside power, especially that of the state. This is because entrenched elites in one area tend form alliances with elites in other areas, which leads us to the cushy, non-adversarial relationship much of the press still has with President Obama, and with power in general.

And no medium is more self-reinforcing in this way than television. At least with old-school print media, the reading process takes a certain amount of mental energy and demands more from the reader than the hollow, blank stare produced by Cable News. As people like Noam Chomsky have said for a long time, much of the news media is built on the propaganda model, one where the consensus about world events comes not from the population itself, but is fed to them over several iterations from a subservient press.

Take at least one example. Since 2008, it is taken almost as an article of faith that financial de-regulation under President Bush was one of the principal causes of the great recession. Anyone who dares to question this is either lampooned as a idiot or is derided by Democratic loyalists, because to question the efficacy of this claim is to cast doubt on things like the 2010 financial reform bill (Dodd-Frank). Don’t get me wrong, some de-regulation like the repeal of Glass-Steagall under President Clinton may have exacerbated the collapse, but observations like this need to be judged on their own merits and not because those in power insist that they are true. Not surprisingly, the de-regulation narrative is one often challenged by the boys over at Reason magazine, including Editor-in-Chief Matt Welch who says:

Not a day goes by when George W. Bush’s deregulation is not blamed for the financial crisis, and yet he hired 90,000 net new regulators, passed the largest Wall Street reform since the Depression (Sarbanes-Oxley), and increased fiscally significant regulations by more than any president since Richard Nixon.

You may want to dispute what Matt is saying here, but I guarantee that you are better off having read that statement. And now you’re thinking about it. Maybe now you have some good ideas about how to disprove what he’s trying to say, which will take some research and fact-checking from other sources. See what I mean?

In the era before the internet, uncovering this mental process didn’t happen in quite the same way, or at least not as fast. Granted, in 1964 I’m sure there were many writers at various local news outlets who opposed the escalation of the Vietnam War. But if you lived in Springfield, Massachusetts and only had The Boston Globe and other local papers supportive of President Johnson, how would you have the opportunity to read that editorial from somewhere in Arizona that said the Gulf of Tomkin incident was a sham? This is a hypothetical of course, but it should illustrate the ease of access that wasn’t available to us before. Television may have brought the news into our living rooms like, but it didn’t do much to diversify it.

The impact of television news on the American mind cannot be overstated. Even in the age of the internet, a recent Gallup poll confirms that:

Television is the main place Americans say they turn to for news about current events (55%), leading the Internet, at 21%. Nine percent say newspapers or other print publications are their main news source, followed by radio, at 6%.

This is not to say that there are no good journalists at the large TV networks or even at newspapers like The New York Times, but as Seymour Hersh recently noted, “The New York Times still has investigative journalists but they do much more of carrying water for the president than I ever thought they would … it’s like you don’t dare be an outsider any more.” Hersh recommends that we “get rid of 90% of the editors that now exist” and “start promoting better people who look you in the eye and say ‘I don’t care what you say’.”

Good advice.

So in the spirit of that, I’d say get rid of your TV set. Or at least get rid of the cable box and just stick with Netflix, Hulu, and Youtube and figure everything our for yourself.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 29, 2013 8:50 am

    Yup. This has been true for over a decade. I forgot TV even exists. But I still rely on record companies for my opera and symphonies on CD.

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