A Little Good News? Or Not

“… the news is always the same, and it’s always bad. It’s also repetitive, 24/7, and with rare exception, it’s the same news stories told in the same vein regardless of what channel you tune to: NBC, CBS, ABC, CBC, Global – whatever major corporation the affiliate stations use, it seems that they all read from the same script and it’s always alarmist: western society is evil and we are just short of going over the cliff.”

Opinion | Anthony Dayton

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Friday’s long read

TORONTO. August 5/22 – Maybe you’re of a type that tends to live too much in your head. And if your home has gone silent, no one calling from the kitchen, nobody speaking from the den, no one asking what your plans are, those old head voices have no competition. After a while of indulging them, it’s time for some external sound so you turn on the TV or the radio. Radio is good: it keeps you company while you do the chores: there’s someone chatting with you while you fold the laundry, clean up, eat breakfast – so you dial up the news or talk radio to connect with the world and listen to other voices. Afterwards, maybe you settle in with a coffee and the local newspaper: it’s good to keep in touch, to be knowledgeable.

But the news is always the same, and it’s always bad. It’s also repetitive, 24/7, and with rare exception, it’s the same news stories told in the same vein regardless of what channel you tune to: NBC, CBS, ABC, CBC, Global – whatever major corporation the affiliate stations use, it seems that they all read from the same script and it’s always alarmist: western society is evil and we are just short of going over the cliff.

Case in point: for two years, Covid 19 held sway; now that we have mostly come out of lockdowns and are readjusting to life, the WHO is sounded the alarm bell on Monkeypox. The Chinese Flu was renamed to Covid 19 because it was racist; now a NYC group is pushing the WHO to rename Monkeypox for the same reason. Says NY Commissioner Vasan, “We need leadership from the WHO to ensure consistency in naming and to reduce confusion to the public.” The suggested replacement name is “hMPXV.” You can’t even pronounce it, and that’s supposedly going to reduce public confusion?

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What else finds its way into your ears? Not quite so much anymore is coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine; it’s been dragging on far longer than expected and perhaps it’s lost its status as a news magnet. Maybe there’s also an additional reason: for a few weeks back in the spring, the war crystallized the realization that we still need fossil fuels. Europe has experienced a heat wave of some magnitude this summer, but the spring fear was that people would not survive the cold winter if Russia cuts off the oil and gas that fuels European cars and industry and heats their homes, never mind runs their tanks and planes. Canada and the U.S. have deliberately shorted themselves, so they have none to sell to Europe either. Green energy replacement programs were suddenly stripped naked, shown not quite ready for prime time. Maybe that has something to do with why the war coverage faded like a rock and roll song dropping down from the number one spot on The Top 40 to number fifteen on the charts.

Shortly after that chilling revelation the IPCC doubled down, releasing its latest global warming/climate change disclosure that we are not achieving our commitments to reduce carbon and that the window to save the world is now closing even more rapidly: only a massive, green reset, they say, that will fundamentally change our lives, will save us. But what about all those Europeans facing a bitterly cold winter if they don’t have sufficient supplies of oil and gas?

On the western home front, the news served up horrendous mass shootings, systemic racism, Roe V. Wade; Critical Race Theory and Gender/Sex theory. The news is always a case of dire straits, speaking of which, it might save your sanity to listen to Dire Straits rather than dire news.

Apparently, this news abuse is so poisonous, so acutely harmful, that even some of the people who produce news content have been affected. In a recent edition of The Washington Post, media writer and commentator Amanda Ripley wrote, “I stopped reading the news — is the problem me, or the product?” She poses a question that few have been willing to ask: “If so many of us feel poisoned by our products, might there be something wrong with them?” Seems pretty brave to question her source of livelihood, but to her credit, she does. The news is overly depressing and causing us anxiety, she writes, concluding that we need a sense of hope and what she calls agency.

It’s tempting to respond to Amanda Ripley that there’s nothing new here: people who had the pleasure of listening to Canada’s own Anne Murray in her heyday might recall the 1983 hit, “A Little Good News.” Songwriters Charles Black, Thomas Rocco, and Rory Bourke were far ahead of their times when, almost forty years ago now, they were prescient enough to write:

There’s a local paper rolled up in a rubber band
One more sad story’s one more than I can stand
Just once how I’d like to see the headline say
“Not much to print today, can’t find nothin’ bad to say”, because
Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town
Nobody OD’ed, nobody burned a single buildin’ down
Nobody fired a shot in anger, nobody had to die in vain
We sure could use a little good news today.  

And yet there is indeed something different with today’s news. Anne Murray’s journalists presented the news as they found it; those reporters have been largely replaced by advocates, activists and content creators who generate the shape of the news according to their politics, their ideologies, and the accepted narratives of the times, and they find ways to keep the drums beating.

Second case in point is this AP headline:  Israeli police shoot man in east Jerusalem. When the truth emerged, it turned out that the man was a Palestinian terrorist who had just rammed his car at full speed into a group of people waiting at a train station, injuring eight and killing a child who was thrown from her stroller. When he tried to escape, that’s when the police shot him. 

Since statistical research shows that less than half of news readers read beyond the headline, the “facts,” they will take away from this AP headline – that the Israelis are killing innocent people – are complete distortions of the truth. Even when a news agency retracts or reprints one of these misleading headlines, it’s too late for the truth; the damage is already done. Misinforming news agencies like the AP and CBC and The Guardian in England that have a habit of doing so must fully be aware of this, printing headlines that will achieve their intended, inaccurate, effect. If someone happens to catch them, they can always apologize and reprint the headline. They must also know that few people will ever see it or connect the revision with the original. 

Another, more recent activist technique for using the news in the service of their political bias is pure Orwell. Those readers who do get beyond the headlines are confronted with language often meant to confuse rather than clarify, drumming talking points and mindless phrases into their heads. Readers and listeners are programmed into automatic thought and mindless responses by this lifeless, deadening language, which is repeatedly hammered into their brains.   

Such an example is their use of the word, baseless. During Donald Trump’s dying attempts to overturn, or at least call into question, Joseph Biden’s election to the presidency, activist reporters all reading from the same script referred to “Donald Trump’s baseless claim that the presidential election was rigged.” Why was it, or how was it, that every news agency, every news anchor, happened to choose that one word, baseless? A quick check on my word processor’s synonym list provides five solid, more interesting alternatives: unsubstantial; unfounded; unproven;  groundless; unjustified. There are also incorrect, inaccurate and flawed. With such a rich vocabulary to mine, how was it that

Orwell said that limiting language limited thought, a goal for dictatorships, as opposed to the notion that democracy needs an educated citizenry. Synonyms invite word growth, complexity of thought and nuance, encouraging a more educated readership. Ours is assumedly a democracy, so why, at least as far as my listening determined, did just about every single news reporter on every single channel, day after day, use only the one word, baseless, over and over, drumming it into our heads?

Baseless is only two syllables, with the emphasis on the first, so it’s a bit of a harsh, unforgiving sound that does not invite discussion. In contrast, consider the word, inaccurate, which invites the listener to think about why or how the claims were incorrect, and perhaps reflect on them further. But baseless? Nope, baseless is a done deal – ask no questions and don’t think because the claims are, well, without basis. Period. And maybe the key to this use of language is that by extension, so is Trump. The claims are baseless because Trump is baseless. Move on.

Baseless was brilliantly chosen, likely by the same people who coined other phrases such as climate denier, conspiracy theorist, populist, racist, homophobe, silence is violence, apartheid, and follow the science. All are thoughtless labels meant to shut people down and silence opposition to the news drivers who assault our eyes with their partisan newspapers and our ears with their radio news.

And so we have come full circle. If you have a need for noise to drown the silence, then switch the channel to music, listen to a thoughtful podcast, or maybe even give some sway to those voices in your head. They can’t be any worse than the scripted voices of the radio.♦

Credit Source: LyricFind. Songwriters: Charlie Black / Rory Michael Bourke / Tommy Rocco A Little Good News lyrics © BMG Rights Management, Hipgnosis Songs Group, Universal Music Publishing Group

Anthony Dayton is a Canadian life-long educator, freelance writer and photographer. His articles are regularly published on https://anthonydayton.substack.com/

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