What he said is NOT news…

…And neither is what she said, for that matter.

Post Independent Article, April, 2018

I have eavesdropped on hundreds of hours of gossip in my adult lifetime. Possibly thousands. It is, unfortunately, an occupational hazard of teaching middle school.

As adolescents, we all struggled to find our place in a complex social society, testing norms and often seeking out attention of any kind. And, at a surprisingly young age, we discovered that sharing a juicy bit of ‘he said/she said’ is the fastest way to draw a crowd. The dumber or meaner the statement, the bigger the crowd. So these deliciously offensive one-liners get repeated again and again to the satisfying shock of every new audience.

But it doesn’t stop in grade school. Humans are undeniably fascinated with the success and failure of their peers. Well, mostly the failure, bless her heart. And that makes sense to a social species whose well-being relies on an individual’s ability to assimilate successfully into a community of some kind. It is not our most noble trait, however, leading to the endless cycle of poor decision-making based largely on second or third-hand information, or fear of the judgment of others. It is something we tell our own children not to do. Don’t spread rumors, don’t talk about people behind their backs, if you can’t say something nice … etc.

Yet, peruse most major online news outlets, and far too many print ones, and one can read in every other headline what this politician said about that one, or what some celebrity said about another public figure.

These headlines receive millions of clicks, but tell us nothing useful. They are shock factor statements meant to appeal to the lazy, insecure side of ourselves that still delights in social drama. And, if that is a guilty pleasure for many, great, by all means, indulge on HBO, binge watch reality TV, but stop believing that gossip and name calling have any place in national news or are helpful in any way to American democracy.

If you are unsure what I mean, I’m calling out both Democrats and Republicans for fueling this new surge of immaturity. For example …

CNN, get it together. We all know our president makes asinine statements on his Twitter account at least three times a week (or hour…), that he has no decorum, and regularly digests his foot on the international stage. But reading another circular essay about why what he said makes him an idiot is only fueling the cherished sense of righteous justification on the left, and gives Trump exactly what he wants — attention.

And, for anyone naive enough to think that highlighting these particular character flaws will influence his die-hard supporters to see the error of their ways, we have seen again and again every statement of ignorance is casually rationalized away by the now-familiar defense, “Well at least he lets us know what he’s thinking.”

And Fox News, break it up. Stop telling me what some pompous talking head said about the leftist media. I didn’t watch their show on purpose. Talk to me about the economic implications of some Democratic legislation. Don’t recount Trump’s latest Tweet tirade against whatever perceived persecution he is experiencing. I can follow him if I want to and read it myself.

Actually, a short summary of my whole article so far … Twitter is not news. If I wanted to know what everyone said, I’d read it there. Don’t write it up as an article with 32-point font and pretend it’s news.

I understand that our president, his cabinet and members of Congress have influence over our country to some extent with only their words. But every single unfortunate thing out of their mouth is not news. In fact, it only fuels the dissension in our country, in the same way that spreading a rumor about what Susie said to Jessica only deepens the perceived rift between their respective allies.

Report events. Discuss actions taken, policies enacted. Analyze legislation still in committee so that voters can decide what message to send their elected officials. Stop being distracted by the lovely feeling of self-righteous disgust over some moronic statement by the 45th, and instead look at what was in the last bill that made it out of the Finance Committee.

As media consumers, our job is to reject the distraction of immature and pointless discourse and demand substance by not engaging with meaningless content, even if it confirms our bias. Look for news outlets that create headlines about events and actions, not merely spoken words.

News agencies are almost always commercial ventures and will stop sharing information that people are not interested in. Although, having said that, it becomes painfully clear what message our country has been giving them about their interests. It is time to change that message.

 

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