By Michael Newberger | firstname.lastname@example.org
The world is in flames! Muslim extremists are going to use the popular uprisings to spread their doctrine and institute Sharia law in the US and Europe so your daughter will have to wear a burka to prom! The vast right-wing conspiracy run by the ominous Koch brothers are planning to take all the unions away!
This is just a taste of what I heard during a week of consuming nothing but cable pundits and no straight news. Cable news talking heads are often accused of causing the deterioration of the political conversation in America. So to see for myself, I decided to give up all other forms of news for a whole week.
I quit reading my daily paper, Time and Newsweek, and received absolutely no TV news aside from cable political commentary shows to see how that affected my worldview.
Here’s a hint: It sure did.
By the end of the week I was convinced that a cabal of Republicans in smoky rooms, as well as a liberal organization based on a communist granola farm, were hard at work to destroy the American way of life.
The editorial shows in question were Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck on Fox; as well as Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz on MSNBC. Fox usually has the most fingers pointed at it by mainstream media for being a biased “newsertainment” channel, but I found MSNBC wasn’t really that different. It was just done in “liberal” style.
The first two hours of my viewing were dedicated to Fox where the pundits occasionally fit the negative stereotype of right-wingers — the complete rejection of any opposing view while sometimes throwing in a Nazi accusation. (And in Beck’s case, apocalyptic prophecy). On the flip side, the hosts on MSNBC were the usual smug liberals. Instead of shouting down dissenters, they just sort of rolled their eyes and gave you the “I drive a Prius and read The Nation and don’t get your germs on me” look.
The thing that I found craziest, especially after watching the “Ed Show” on MSNBC, is the amount of conspiracy going on. I used to look at pundit shows on Fox as the antithesis of us “intelligent” Dems, but it’s just as bad on the other side. Instead of some nefarious liberal conspiracy led by George Soros, I was led to believe there was some kind of insane right-wing plan to undermine democracy led by the all-too-prevalent Koch brothers. By the end of the experiment I was afraid that both the right and left were trying to kill what we hold dear in the USA.
I think the main problem with these shows isn’t completely the network’s fault. They’re out there to get as many viewers as possible in order to make ad revenue. That’s no different than any news source in the U.S., aside from public programming. (Note to future readers: If Boehner’s Congress won the budget debate, public programming was news and entertainment paid for primarily by the government. It was very dry and didn’t have cool colors and shouty people and the entertainment was usually about a fictional town in Minnesota or two guys talking about cars.)
The problem really is when we only take these pundits’ opinions as news and don’t look into issues any further than what they spout. With the barrage of graphics and shouting heads, in between the usual all-day coverage, it’s easy to get sucked into the void.
Truth is, I found myself shouting along with both sides by the end of the week. I’m not saying we should “kill the bastards,” but maybe, just maybe, it’s time we take things from pundits with a grain of salt.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go invest in gold before Communist China launches a nuclear war on us.