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Are we being distracted from the real news?

In Portugal, back in the day — farmers would plant a small unguarded garden to lure the rabbits away from their main crops. It was a distraction. If things went well, the rabbit would miss the main crops and be lured away. This age old strategy is with us today. And we may be the rabbits. Tune in any major news broadcast, and the politics of the day, perhaps even the moment, push the real news off the stage. What do we mean by “real news?” Stories of the impact of political wars, from struggling farmers to struggling families. War, famine, invasion, and peace are lost in the cracks. And, the consequences of bad or good policies never come to light. We have no sense of context. What we see on TV is our window to the world — and painting a world divided in two — a nation on the path to a new civil war is easy to buy. Not surprisingly — most Americans no longer trust their elected officials and just tune out. "The medium is the message" said Marshall McLuhan. But is that true anymore? NBCUniversal is a division of the Comcast Corporation. CBS Entertainment is controlled by Sumner Redstone. Disney owns ABC. WarnerMedia runs CNN. Many local TV stations are owned by massive companies that push out news and content.

Back to the distraction, the redirection: why show a very thin line of news? Well, having a conversation and interviewing exporters is a lot cheaper than actually producing news segments and sending reporters all over the world. Second, the news industry learned from the pharmaceutical industry that branding sells: Brand a view point — and earn loyalty. But what if you haven’t made up your mind? Then biased and thin layer news reporting may have the opposite impact — pushing you away rather than drawing you in. So therefore you would think that the most partisan outlets would have the biggest ratings.

In 2019, Fox News earned the top-ratings of any cable network for the fourth year in a row, next came MSNBC and then ESPN.

Google “why America stopped watching news” and find dozens of articles and videos by folks who have done just that.

So, the next question has to be-if you stop watching the news on Cable TV, where do you get your information from? Two-thirds of American adults get their news today from social media, with 1 in 5 American adults doing so often according to the Pew Research Center. Almost half get their news from Facebook. That far outpaces newspapers, with the number of Americans who get information from newspapers in a free fall.

Many say they get their news online — but paywalls, partisan and non-journalist sources and real “fake news” make that muddy water.

All this is disturbing — but here are a few tips that could help get us back on track.

Subscribe to a newspaper.

Yes, I know, the print media is dying. But, as Jefferson put it, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” Supporting the news media industry is a good investment in our nation. And read it, too.

Look at the source. And beware.

A few months ago Google actually hired news editors to review the stories it posts to Google news, an acknowledgment that some questionable sources have seeped into their newsfeed. But, it still gives you more of what you click on, and less of what you don’t. Worse, it only gives you 4-5 top stories, and then launches into stuff it thinks you want to see. So, how will you read about Russian influence in Moldova, or a famine in the Sudan? Forget about the climate crisis too. You won’t see it.

Stay off morning Cable news — like bacon and eggs — it can kill you.

Instead of seeing a fixable world, you will be drawn into a world of political theatre, darkness’ and hopelessness.

Look abroad —

From the BBC to the CBC, there are plenty of non-American sources offering the news of the day. It would not hurt to check in and see what they think news is. National domestic news can often be like the Picture of Dorian Gray - and that did not end well.

We all live busy lives. We can’t help but focus on the day ahead. But, being distracted and misdirected has its consequences. As citizen of a republic, it is our duty.

As John Kennedy put it:

“Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed — and no republic can survive. ... And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment — the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution — not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply "give the public what it wants" — but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.

This means greater coverage and analysis of international news — for it is no longer far away and foreign but close at hand and local. It means greater attention to improved understanding of the news as well as improved transmission. And it means, finally, that government at all levels must meet its obligation to provide you with the fullest possible information outside the narrowest limits of national security. ... And so it is to the printing press — to the recorder of man's deeds, the keeper of his conscience, the courier of his news — that we look for strength and assistance, confident that with your help man will be what he was born to be: free and independent.”

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