Interpreting the News

NPR / Fox NewsI was listening to NPR’s Weekend Edition this morning. It was the first time I had heard it in some time. It was interesting to compare it to another form of mainstream news: Fox. Although NPR is hardly perfect, I noticed that the stories were presented in as non-judgmental a manner as possible. Interpretation was left to the listener. On Fox News, in contrast, everything is judgement. Regardless of the ideological content of their programming, the point of any program is not the communication of ideas but rather of feelings—particularly outrage.

Rather than the pernicious ideas that underlie all Fox News content, what really matters is this emotional approach to information. Since NPR presents ideas, one can agree or disagree with it. The Fox News viewer is given no such option. Instead, he is caught in a stimulus-response loop that gratifies his basest feelings of in-group superiority and out-group degeneracy. “Look at that person who is so vile as to not live up to my moral standards!” Given that this is the end result of any Fox News story, there can be no broadening of minds—no increased understanding.

Such an approach to news could conceivably be used by the left as well as the right. In fact, it would seem easier for the left. The atrocities of an increasingly unequal society seem ripe for the kind of emotional appeals as we saw during the robber baron days in newspapers and books. And yet, we don’t. The emotional appeal comes almost exclusively from the right.

I think this is due to the fact that the political center of gravity in this country has moved so far to the right. As a result, there are only two kinds of people who can continue to consider themselves conservative. First, there are the super rich for whom conservatism justifies their unjustifiable standards of living.[1] Second, there are those for whom facts and argument mean nothing. These are people who have only their anger and the belief that they belong to an in-group[2] to find any purpose in life. This leaves just about any person who is open to fact and argument on the left in the American political spectrum. However, I think the day is coming when the have-nots will begin to see their situation in less intellectual terms. I can’t see this as an entirely bad thing, even though I do not relish the idea. I am tired of all the modern-day Howard Beales mad as hell that the rich are taxed too much.

In the end, I will always side with ideas and thus NPR. I need no help in determining what to believe. And I think this is true of most people. Left to themselves, they will reach reasonable conclusions—even the Fox News viewers. Unfortunately, the Fox News viewers are not left to themselves. As a group, they are the least able to protect themselves from demagoguery, and yet most attracted to it.


[1] I cannot get my head around the idea that one person is a thousand times more valuable than another. Even Jonas Salk depended upon millions of people in order to do his most honorific work. So it really fries my brain to believe that some hedge fund manager is a hundred million times more valuable than a subsistence farmer.

[2] Whether they really are part of that in-group is highly questionable. For example, many such people believe themselves to be entrepreneurs or the “potentially rich” when they are, in fact, just working stiffs who, if luck turns sour, will be rolled over like Sherman tank tracks by the very group they consider themselves to be “in.” I see this from time to time, like the ENRON engineer who lost his retirement after the top executives—the real in-group members—had sold off theirs early (and illegally) for hundreds of millions in profits.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Interpreting the News

  1. Yeah. Funny how conservatives never complain about corporate welfare that costs the government FAR more than welfare for the poor.

  2. I prefer NPR as my news source, too… It seems to be the least biased out of all of them, and it is usually current and has everything I need to know… At least I think it does!

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