Why do you read the paper every day?

Why do you read the paper (or listen to/watch the news) every day?  Certainly not for an objective account of events.  Because surely you’re aware of editorial bias – what gets in (or not), where it goes, and how much space it gets there.  And reporter bias – who gets interviewed, what gets asked (or not), and what gets put at the beginning of the piece.

And how it’s said.  To describe an incident with complete objectivity is to give a phenomenological account.  And anyone who’s taken Phenomenology 101 knows how difficult that is.  Even to say “There is a brown house” is to have made an assumption, is to have imposed your subjectivity.  You can’t see the house.  From your perspective, standing in front of it, all you see is one, or maybe two walls.  You assume there’s a third and a fourth.  Your subjectivity fills in the gaps.  All the time.

It gets worse.  Is the glass half empty or half full?  One description is positive, the other is negative.

And worse still.  Consider something as simple as an accident report.  You begin with “A serious accident occurred…”  Well, right away you’re in trouble.  Who says it’s serious?  How serious is serious?  Serious to who?  You’ve expressed your opinion.  Furthermore, you’ve assumed it was an accident.  My guess it that you didn’t speak to the drivers.  Maybe it was intentional.

Try again.  To say “A ran into B” is to put it in rather aggressive terms.  “A hit B” is almost as bad.  “Car A hit Car B” is a little better.  “Car A collided with Car B” is even better, but still you’ve suggested that A is to blame (because it did the doing – colliding or whatever); maybe Car B got in the way of Car A.  “Car A and Car B collided” is better still, but only “Car A and Car B occupied the same space at the same point in time” is really objective.

Now consider the difficulty of reporting something involving more than inanimate objects.  For example, people.  Consider “The fight continues between the Board and the Union…”  To call it a fight is to describe a whole set of attributes (animosity, competition) which may or may not be present.  And, in any case, I don’t think everyone agrees on when an interaction involving those attributes actually becomes a fight – again, it’s a subjective call.  “The struggle to find a common ground continues…” is better, but still, you’ve called it a struggle, you’ve again put your own opinion into the report.  To say “The negotiations continued…” is perhaps most accurate, most objective.  But you’d better stop there: even to add “for yet another day” suggests it’s going on too long – an opinion.  The thing is this: purely objective reports are boring; to make the news interesting, to sucker you into reading it, it’s make subjective.

It’s also made exciting.  Loud noises are exciting.  At the very least, they get our attention.  And conflict, more than resolution, seems associated with loud noises.  So conflict gets covered more than resolution.  And things involving neither get covered as if they were conflicts, as if there is some problem, some difficulty.  (And certainly any problem or difficulty that is there gets emphasized, even exaggerated.)  So you read the paper for excitement (get a life) – but not only is it vicarious excitement, it’s fabricated, fake excitement.

Even if the news accounts were objective, why do you read so many of them every day?   (Now commentary, that would actually be useful – it could make sense of the accounts.)  I just want to know what’s going on, people say.  But why?  Does it give you a feeling of control to know?  Anyone who gave it half a thought would feel less, not more, powerful knowing about problems they could not or would not solve.

Truth is, people read the paper because, well, people have always read the paper – it’s what you do, every morning or on your break or after work.  People in general are a rather thoughtless bunch.  And they pay with the skewered world view they thereby acquire.

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