A Great Response to My Post About News

Last week I shared a few quotes that explain why I don’t pay attention to the news1. One of our former students commented on the post and his thoughts were great2. I’ll post my response to his thoughts later this week.

This is spot on.

It’s funny you would write about this now, as I’ve recently been rereading two amazing media critiques – “How the News Makes Us Dumb” by C. John Sommerville and “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman.

While the former was published in 1999 and the latter in 1986 (!), their timeliness seems only to appreciate in value as the years roll by, revealing just how prophetic their messages truly are.

If you’ve never read “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, I’d encourage you to do so. It’s in my my top 5 for nonfiction. While I could quote an unraveled DNA strands’ worth of text from it, I’ll (nigh impossibly) choose just one passage from it:

“In America, everyone is entitled to an opinion, and it is certainly useful to have a few when a pollster shows up. But these are opinions of a quite different roder from eighteenth- or nineteenth-century opinions. It is probably more accurate to call them emotions rather than opinions, which would account for the fact that they change from week to week, as the pollsters tell us.

What is happening here is that television is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. I am using this world almost in the precise sense in which it is used by spies in the CIA or KGB. Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information–misplace, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information–information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing.

In saying this, I do not mean to imply that television news deliberately aims to deprive Americans of a coherent, contextual understanding of their world. I mean to say that when news is packaged as entertainment, that is the inevitable result. And in saying that the television news show entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?”

And I love the C.S. Lewis quote. In my humble little opinion, mainstream knowledge of Lewis’ works is plummeting as his writings are relegated to merely a ‘Christian’ categorization. Remarkable, then, that he had things of value to say that weren’t simply for those who still believe in bedtime stories.

Then again, who reads at all anymore?

1. You can read the full post, Two Quotes About News, here.2. You can read the comment in context here.

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Practicing the art of bringing guns to a knife fight.

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