Over the past few months I was glued to all the political news as if my life depended on it. I was obsessed to the point where it was affecting other parts of my life, like enjoying a nice dinner without CNN. Finally, I hit a wall, and for the past few days I‘ve totally gone cold turkey and stayed completely away from my television. And here’s what I’ve learned.
I learned that when Erin Burnett and Wolfe Blitzer say “Breaking News Alert” they really mean “We’ve been talking about this most of the day, but if we say it differently with dramatic music to underscore our announcement, people might think we’ve actually got something new to share.”
And when they say, “This Just In,” they really mean “this story has been around all day but if we say it with a sense of urgency and a serious expression, people will think we’re got more sources than WikiLeaks.” Now I shouldn’t just pick on CNN – Each of the cable news stations has their own style of pretend news and they’re all guilty of feeding Election 2016 information addictions.
I also learned that many - probably most - of the talking heads were really just bobble heads. They weren’t there to share their insights and thoughtful observations for me to ponder and consider. They were there to create exciting, argumentative banter and to sell their brand of cool-aid to those thirsty for something substantial but willing to take what they could get.
And please admit that no matter who you voted for, Kellyanne’s pasted on grin and masterful pivoting was an Olympian performance extraordinaire. (I acknowledge my bias here so feel free to name your own performer – and there’s a very good chance I’ll agree with you.)
And that brings me to the Spin Zone. Why wasn’t I dizzy? Why didn’t I say “Stop, I want to get off this tilt-a-wheel? Turning on my TV was like knowingly boarding a cruise ship heading to the Bermuda Triangle. Yet every night when I got home, before taking off my jacket, I grabbed my remote and without hesitation helped whoever was at the helm (ironically an anchor) set sail.
As we got closer to election night, I became even more anxious and began channel surfing like a madman. I was being strangled by too much information that didn’t inform and didn’t make sense. And so I jumped from channel to channel and with each click of the remote I discovered nothing new, nothing meaningful, and nothing of substance. Click… Click… Click… And then once more before heading to bed, click.
What I should have figured out sooner was that five hours of cable news could have been condensed into 20 minutes of real news. I should have seen that “Breaking News” was just a gimmick to keep my TV on and their ratings up. I should have realized I didn’t need a room full of “talking heads” with computers and smart phones yelling at each other and drowning out my own voice. And I should have stopped all that small, annoying clicking and gone for that one big CLICK.
Look, it’s really not up to me to point fingers or judge. The truth is I’ve only got myself to blame. I was belting out “Give me more, give me more, give me more, more, more” from “Kiss of The Spider Woman” (the musical) when I should have asked Alexa or Siri or my partner (who by the way had the good sense to stay away from the TV) for a little bit of Peggy Lee (the lounge singer) and her classic “Is that all there is?”
I am glad the election is over. I need to stay away from cable news and get engaged in making my own news. There’s a lot of work that we need to get done and we’ll never get it done by joining a bunch of news addicts huddled around a TV. Going forward I’ll stay informed, be a bit more selective with my sources and a lot more judicial with my free time.
I’ll take responsibility to create my own world and not let it be created for me by television stations and personalities who are chasing ratings and dancing on the edge between entertainment and news. And I’ll act as if what I do next - every single small step I take - has the potential to make a difference and make the world a little better, a little sweeter and maybe even a little safer too.
My life no longer depends on “breaking news”. And, by the way, Peggy Lee was wrong... that’s NOT all there is!