This week I have been thinking about how I read news. Or, better yet, how I get news. Especially in light of the PIPA (Protect Internet Piracy Act) and SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) bills that have been circulating the Senate and House, I have felt scrupulous toward myself, asking myself how I stay educated about the world.
Truth is, I do a pretty piss-poor job.
Why? Because I find that every news-related thing I read I take with a grain of salt. There are too many agendas out there: some news sources lean left, others right. I mention the term Fox News and what immediately pops into your head? Do you roll your eyes? Do you give it an atta-boy because your political views align with theirs? What if I say I listen to National Public Radio every morning? Or watch CNN? Are you going to assume I am a flaming liberal? That I support gay rights?
I don’t know if the world is becoming more polarized, or if I am just growing up and finally getting a reality dose of the world’s news sources. Most sources, I think, strive to be objective – take LA’s own public radio station, KPCC, for example, with its slogan, “News with no rant and no slant.” But what is objectivity, really?
As a journalist and former newspaper reporter, I am going out on a limb here. But I don’t know that it’s possible for objectivity to even really exist. Because we are all human, with unique brains and opinions and filters with which we see the world. When I wrote an award-winning feature story on a rape victim for an Indiana newspaper a few years ago, I met the victim face-to-face. I listened to her story. I sympathized with her struggle, deeply believing she was telling me the truth. And I wrote the story.
I first learned about the PIPA and SOPA bills via a handful of writing blogs I follow. All of these blogs were advocating for free speech, first amendment rights, yada yada. Anytime someone starts spouting off political jargon like “civil liberties” or “protest” or what have you, my mind puts up a black screen. It’s a weird way of protecting myself against any skewed agenda that might come my way, a subtle way of me saying, “Give me all the facts first, then let me make my own decision.”
The other night my husband came home from work and told me how frustrated he was with USA Today, his primary news source these days. Articles in USA Today were explaining the potential setbacks these two bills could cause with regard to freedom of speech, but never once, my husband said, did the publication actually explain what the bills were.
I wonder if, as a writer, I should jump on the bandwagon with Google, Wikipedia, and writing-related blogs like Seth Godin’s, railing my fists at Congress and claiming Congress is threatening my personal rights to free speech and freedom of expression while not giving a darn what the majority of the American public thinks. Am I just another dumb clicker if I hesitate to immediately buy in, because other writers are doing it? Imagine how lost you would be without Google, Wikipedia …
I will laugh at an image a Facebook friend posted on his page, showing The Whitehouse in all its glory with the words: “Says China and Iran Shouldn’t Censor Internet … Introduces Bill that will Censor Internet.” But then I will read the LA Times about how “Hollywood unions blast Google and urge Senate support for PIPA.” I will learn that, according to screen and actors’ guilds, the bills are meant to put a stop only to illegal foreign Websites, meaning the threat to sites like Google and Wikipedia are zilch. Then I will read about how a backlash against the SOPA bill has sent it spiraling back into congress for further consideration …
… and on it goes.
Sometimes, I get frustrated that when it comes to major issues and politics, I am so slow to form my own opinions. I often sit in silence while people around me duke out the debates – illegal immigration, gay rights, first amendment freedoms. I feel like the dumb one, the shy one, saying nothing while others spatter on. But then I remember: there are two sides to every coin, and I happen to believe in looking hard at the entire artifact, with a small brush and a toothpick, before I decide which side is more beautiful.
*One more reason why I take news with a grain of salt: This week, actor Rob Lowe tweeted that Indianapolis Colts Quarterback Peyton Manning was retiring this year. Lowe, who stars in the NBC show, “Parks and Recreation,” which is set in Indiana, is a friend of Colts Owner Jim Irsay. A flurry of tweets and news stories followed, of course. But then Irsay stepped in, via Twitter, with this: “My sources tell me Rob will star in an epic remake of ‘Deep Throat’ with aging porn stars and 4 finger circus clowns.”
*What’s your take?