Anger, News, #OccupyWallStreet and You

Anger, News, #OccupyWallSt, and You

Image from The Guardian

Today I want to briefly discuss one of the new rules of the modern world:

If you get almost any portion of what you consider to be actual news from your television, you’re doing it wrong.

In actuality, this rule has likely been true since television’s inception (with exceptions made along the way), but these days it is overwhelmingly the case, especially in America. Most stories on the nightly news for any of the network channels are equal to an extended tweet on Twitter, which, when it comes to informing you about the news, is the equivalent of a fart in the wind. They don’t have time to even give you the entire story, let alone a nuanced look at important events in the world today. They also invariably contain some amount of spin, even when they are trying to be objective, often because the sources they receive the news from have already spun the story.

In most cases, they are intentionally telling you only part of a more complete story while adding political spin. In some cases they are actively lying to you.

To put this another way, the MOST spin-oriented (and likely to lie to you) news organization in the United States is Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch. Their motto is “fair and balanced,” when almost nothing they report on the television channel is. In other words, they START the conversation by lying to you – how much of what they report can you actually trust?

The deeply concerning part is that formerly centrist, legitimate news organizations like the New York Times and Washington Post, places with long histories (and awards) for investigative journalism have now been deeply, unexpectedly compromised. You could provide almost any number of examples for this in the last decade, but in particular look at how the NYT (whose editorial department was ideologically opposed to almost everything the GWB administration did) dealt with the entire George W. Bush era. The number of lies put forth as “simple truths” from that presidential administration was staggering, and a number of the largest ones were easily proven to be lies after some relatively minor digging many years down the road. (The streets of West Baltimore had more ‘WMDs’ than the nation of Iraq.) However, during this time the NYT allowed itself to be stonewalled again and again – for no apparent reason. To understand how alarming this is, imagine a Rupert Murdoch newspaper doing the same thing when a party they oppose was in power. Some of the Murdoch publications/channels go so far as to make up lies regarding the opposition, so why wasn’t the New York Times scrounging for existing legitimate news that would detail how corrupt and dishonest the second Bush era was*?

This is why WikiLeaks and the work they do uncovering bullshit around the world actually matters. The vast majority of news organizations in the purported ‘free world’ are so deeply tied to figures with agendas that objectivity has mostly been eradicated, and nowhere is this more true than television news – regardless of your political viewpoint**. Watching it is a waste of your time, so if you find yourself doing it, just stop. Doing anything else would be more productive and less disingenuous.

What Can You Do If You Want to be Informed?
Make no bones about it, actually being informed about what is happening in the world around you takes time and effort, but most intelligent people (and all of your college professors) will tell you it is worth your while. Once you decide you want to stop being a mug and become knowledgeable, the problem is how to get informed in the most efficient and least spun way possible. What follows are the news organizations and blogs I have learned to follow over the years for useful information, all of which exist in some form or another online.

There are two newspapers left in the world that are producing great work on a regular basis: The Guardian and The Financial Times. FT obviously skews economic and business in their reporting, but seeing as how the last five years have contained the economic fallout of the largest financial crisis in the last 50 years, that type of news is damned important. The Guardian is the best of the remaining old-line newspapers, and their investigative journalism department is still top-notch. FT has a pay wall, but you can get some number of stories free a month by registering with them – The Guardian is still free. Between these two, you will get most of the world news you need, but despite some missteps in recent years, the New York Times remains a pretty solid news organization as well.

(Aside: Chris Mascioli noted that Al Jazeera is worthwhile and important as well, which I completely agree with but doesn’t normally make it into my rotation for time reasons. It is certainly not a ‘”U.S. government approved source,” which alone makes it more valuable than almost anything in the U.S. mainstream.)

If you find those too heavy (you shouldn’t, but I not here to judge you), you can lean on the BBC, which is the national broadcasting arm of Great Britain. It is taxpayer funded, still does some excellent investigative work, and is watched like a hawk from both sides for partisan slants, which in turn makes it about as neutral as you can get. National Public Radio (NPR) in the United States is similarly useful (and sometimes even more wonderful), and is also available entirely online these days. The stories often aren’t as in-depth as you will get from the print sources, but they are still miles better than anything you will get from television.

After that, it’s time to hit some magazines and the blogs.  The Atlantic and New Yorker are still producing great work by some amazing writers, even if their prominence in the American consciousness has diminished over the years. Business Insider is now a daily stop for me as well, especially after producing this piece of material explaining why Americans should be angry and occupying things (Wall Street, Washington, Banks, etc), with this slide in particular inducing one of those crazy “Holy shit, the U.S. is a banana republic when it comes to income inequality” epiphanies.  I will also pop over to The Economist about once a week and buy one to read every time I travel. I don’t always agree with their editorial (which is probably useful), but it’s hard to find more information packed into one place.

These are the economic blogs I will stop by on a regular basis. Some tend to lean a bit more conspiracy-heavy, while others (like Delong) are very academic (and sometimes ranty). Conspiracy leanings might seem weird at first, but one of the things I have learned from following the news for the last fifteen years or so is that there’s a LOT more bad shit going down than any government or corporation ever wants you to know. The stuff that Seymore Hersh***, WikiLeaks, and The Guardian dig up have often been decried as conspiracies before all the facts were brought to the table.

Brad DeLong (Chair of Political Economy at UC Berkeley)
Economic Populist
Zero Hedge
Marginal Revolution

Obviously this list is not comprehensive – no matter who you are, there is a finite amount of time to be spent reading news on the internet – these are just the ones I frequent. As you become active and engaged, you will find your own sources along the way with interesting and useful information. If you have any you want to add, feel free to post them in the comments section.

As for political blogs or magazines, I simply don’t follow them. These days there’s just too much noise to be bothered, so while I respect some places like DailyKos and the New Republic, I’m well-informed enough that I don’t really need the slant along with the events. The system is corrupt and broken – I already know that. The politicians are impotent, say stupid things all the time, and always fatten themselves from the money teat of their donors, most of whom are rich beyond belief and trying to rig things to stay that way/get even richer – I already know that too. What I really want are facts about who did what to whom in the library, and I can’t get there from those sources.

Conclusion
No matter what age you are, or what country you live in, it behooves you to stay informed about events in the world around you. With the current state of the economy, about 95% of the potential readers of this blog should be fucking angry, but general anger is pretty useless – walking around kicking dogs because you are upset at the state of the world is pretty dumb. However, by reading up on events, you can gradually figure out who is to blame for whatever particular debacle you are pissed at today and target your anger at the people and institutions who deserve it (unlike dogs, kicking them is likely a crime and is not recommended, though plenty probably deserve it). Who knows, once you have the information at your fingertips, you might even help enact change that will improve everyone’s lives.

Then again, you might just be more useful at pub quiz nights. Either way, it’s better than where you are right now.

–TK
@mixedknuts on Twitter

* A listing of crimes committed in the eight years under George W. Bush read like a litany of accusations for someone being prosecuted at The Hague for crimes against humanity. They include – but are not limited to – unjust and unnecessary wars, kidnapping, suspension of basic human rights, suspension of due process, frequent and flagrant violations of the American Constitution, assassination, and probably the greatest transfer of wealth (read: THEFT) in the history of the modern world.

** There are exceptions to general TV news truthiness including the BBC, The Daily Show, news programs on PBS and others I am sure I am not aware of, but the vast majority are a waste of your time.

*** If the name Seymore Hersh is new to you, you should go out of your way to fix this. His lifetime compilation of work is truly incredible.

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5 responses to “Anger, News, #OccupyWallStreet and You

  1. I would note The Guardian and NYT are left-leaning in their slant. Their writing is great, but the prejudices one needs to be most objective about are one’s own.

    • The editorial sections in those newspapers are leftist, but the news organizations tend to be centrist and objective, something none of the Murdoch-owned newspapers or TV stations seem to manage.

  2. I don’t usually read the guardian for no particular reason (although there were some suspicions raised about them recently regarding the wikileaks leaks, equally I heard recently they were starting a more open initiaive to news, which sounds like a good thing).

    I usually read the BBC news site and Reuters (which is often the source of a lot of news anyway). Occasionally twitter can be handy for real time events (and sometimes there are whole news articles devoted to something that happened on twitter, so its just going to the source again).

  3. 1) Al-Jazeera is too “government approved”!
    2) Needs MOAR Naked Capitalism, Calculated Risk, and The Big Picture
    3) Every time I see an article from Martin Peretz in my New Republic RSS feed, God kill a puppy
    4) Every time I see an article from Megan McArdle in my Atlantic RSS feed, God kill a kitten
    5) I read Zero Hedge for a while, but stopped when the analysis became increasingly arcane. Is it still that impenetrable?
    6) I’ll just leave this here: http://www.theawl.com/2011/01/the-most-emailed-new-york-times-article-ever

  4. I would also add the christian science monitor (the name makes it sound different than what it is) and forrign affairs magazine. After 4 years of high school debate as well as extemporaneous speech, both have very in depth coverage, especially of event that msm just doesnt cover

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