Carl Bernstein, the famous reporter who exposed Nixon and the Watergate scandal, commented on the current climate of news, scandal, and culture:
We have two problems at once. We don’t have enough institutions that are spending enough money on great reporting. And we don’t have enough people that are willing to be open to information that might be contrary to their preconceived notions of what’s going on.
It is the first week of spring and I find myself dazed like I woke up from a 1980s Back to the Future nightmare…Russia is hacking our democracy, Donald Trump is President, and Al Franken is a senator trying to undermine Trump’s presidency. The FBI and NSA are in a Senate hearing, commenting on wiretaps and hacking. I think Carl Bernstein provides the backdrop to the problem.
First, news is no longer news. The networks want to make money and Geraldo turned journalism into entertainment. The more sensational, the more we watch, and the more we watch, the more advertisers will pay—so give us what we want! We want to accuse the media but in reality, we are the problem. We want to get to work on time and yet we can’t help but rubberneck the accident, and so we create a traffic jam. The traffic jam is that we don’t want news; we want scandal and entertainment and we can’t help ourselves but to feed on it.
Second, we refuse to let information change our perception. In other words, there are world views, parties, sides, and teams and no matter what, we root for, pull for, and believe our team regardless of what the information says. We are all Patriots fans and we berate, loathe and discount any proof of cheating. We are polarized along bias lines, and regardless of what information comes our way we absorb it into what we already believe. No matter what new discoveries reveal and regardless of science class that talks about the earth revolving around the sun—to us, the world is flat. We don’t have any use for news because it won’t change our fixed mindset.
Here is the danger: we have become impervious to truth because we no longer believe it to be fixed or absolute. When truth is relative, we are the makers of truth. When we are the makers of truth, no outside information will change our belief of what we have determined to be the truth. When absolute truth is rejected for relative truth, enlightenment is traded for opinion. When opinion is the new truth there is no dialogue, only argument.
We can label anything we don’t like as fake. We can assail character without proof, and all we need to do to maintain status quo is supply information sound bites that fit the worldview of our base. “Tom Brady and Belichick never did anything wrong—people are just jealous because they are so successful,” or “Patriots only win because they are cheaters.” Two sides and no in-between, because we don’t want truth, we want entertainment that fits our narrative.
Carl Bernstein, who risked his life to remove the mask of fraud and deceit in the Nixon White House, has adeptly identified one of our culture’s fatal illnesses: we no longer tolerate truth, rather we want information that supports our self made beliefs. Self- made truth is the very definition of idolatry because it displaces absolute truth and enthrones it with something man-made.
As long as we refuse to demand the truth and settle for our preferred narrative or indulge in the infotainment guilty pleasure, then all news is fake news and all facts are “alternative facts.” We, not the media, are the problem.