|I’m a news junkie. I admit it. I am an inveterate, multiple times a day clicker on NYtimes.com, wapo.com, theguardian.com, haaretz.com, and bostonglobe.com. Among others…
I grew up in a home where watching the news was considered mandatory. After dinner, we waited for Walter Cronkite, a man we revered with pious intensity. When he spoke, no one could utter a sound.
In those days, news sources were few. There was local news, network news, news radio, and the print media. People would pick and choose from them. And while there were some nuances between a more conservative source versus a more liberal source, no one ever suggested that any particular source was fake news.
Now we have essentially unlimited news sources. We can go to a number of cable channels for 24/7/365 coverage. For some of them, there is a clear ideological slant. Then there are the partisan sites, where one’s political opinion is nurtured by others who believe in the same things.
The fact that what I read and watch defines me politically is very troubling. I don’t want to be seen through any particular filter. I want to be seen as a Jewish American male interested in my world. Period. The fact that people around me may have different opinions is bracing and positive. I don’t want to only speak to like-minded people. It’s healthy to have a variety of viewpoints available from which to learn. It’s good to have thoughtful challenges to the status quo. It helps to keep one awake and watchful.
The hard truth for me, as a news junkie, is that there is so much toxic news. I can barely stand to read the ongoing drama of American domestic and foreign policy. I wonder if the vague anxiety I feel about nuclear war is ridiculous, or if it’s ridiculous that I’m not more frightened? And what about the guns and random violence and mass shootings and utterly inadequate gun laws? And what’s up with Israel, anyway? What will Iran do now? And Harvey Weinstein, this rapacious bully? Help! The list could go on and on and on and on…
When I wake up in the morning, it’s to my NPR station. Often the news is bleak. And I’ve started to wonder: am I too addicted? Do I need to ease up on mainlining news?
Niall Doherty, a very interesting Irish fellow, wrote four years ago that a steady diet of news is bad for us. He gives six reasons to back his contention up:
1. The news is depressing
2. The news is a poor representation of reality
3. Everything in the news is beyond your circle of influence
4. You don’t need to stay informed
5. You’ll never know it all anyway
6. You can catch up quickly if you need to
It all sounds rather heretical to me. But maybe Doherty is right. As Dr. Andrew Weil wrote some time ago, “Some studies have shown that images and reports of violence, death, and disaster can promote undesirable changes in mood and aggravate anxiety, sadness, and depression, which in turn can have deleterious effects on physical health. Even frequent worrying can reduce immunity, making you more vulnerable to infection.”
Do you ever take what Weil calls a “news fast”? Do you think it wise? Do you think it’s irresponsible? I’m debating what to do here. Can I afford less time involved with current events? Can I afford not to know as much as possible? Tell me what you think.