These days, when friends ask how I’m doing, I give them an honest answer. I say, “I’m struggling.”
You see, my profession is driving me crazy. I have a job that requires me to stay on top of current events and follow every bounce of the daily news cycle. Switching between CNN and Fox News is like visiting different planets. Between White House press releases, talk radio, the internet, 24-hour cable news and social media, I feel like I’m standing in front of a fire hydrant that’s gushing out information.
And, unfortunately, in the era of President Trump, a lot of misinformation.
I’ve decided that digesting too much media is unhealthy. It makes you cynical and distrustful.
A Facebook friend put it well when he said: “You spend all your time in the sewer, and soon everything looks like a rat.”
True enough. But when you’re covering politicians, there is no shortage of vermin.
I envy my friends with regular jobs who can parachute in and out of news stories. A lot of them only watch the infotainment shows of pseudo-journalists like Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. My friends get the gist of the day’s events and then shoehorn what they hear to fit their political leanings. They’re fine with that.
Recently, I had a chat with an English professor at a small college in Southern California. She spends her days reading books, teaching students, grading papers and discussing great literature with colleagues. When our conversation veered into politics – and, specifically, the immigration debate – she wrongly insisted that Barack Obama had only deported illegal immigrants who committed crimes. She was out of her depth. I tried to set her straight.
It didn’t work. She may have been ignorant, but she was blissfully so. To her, issues are cut and dried. Her world makes sense. It has good guys and bad guys, correct positions and incorrect ones.
Writing about politics, especially with Trump in the White House, I don’t have the luxury of living in a black-and-white world. All I see is gray. Nuance is the new normal.
Now that much of the media has given up the role of referee and suited up to play in the arena, it’s clear — with the recent barrage of what the left considers major scoops and the right dismisses as “fake news” — that the objective of this game is to destroy Trump.
Which is poetic given that it was the media who helped create Trump. Remember when Ted Cruz attacked Trump for having “New York values” during the Republican primary, and the New York-based media annihilated Cruz?
Now it seems like half the country can’t stand the other half. Many conservatives think that Trump is doing fine and the media are terribly unfair. Many liberals think that Trump is terribly unqualified and the media are doing great.
And yet, I believe there is a third group of Americans who think that both Trump and the media are behaving horribly, that their attacks on one another have become less rational and more emotional. When a guest recently questioned a newspaper story based on the accounts of anonymous individuals, CNN host Kate Bolduan wagged her finger, yelled at him, and accused him of “attacking sources.”
This group doesn’t care for Trump, yet they find the media’s breathless coverage of this White House unappealing and unwatchable. The more time they spend watching cable news, the more confused they get. They don’t know what to believe, or whom to trust.
So they’re tuning out. They’re not paying attention to political news anymore.
“Sick and tired! It’s gotten to where I don’t trust any news,” says one Facebook friend.
“I change it to the news after it’s been on for 10 minutes. The first 10 minutes are reserved for partisan non-news,” says another.
A liberal friend who was raised in New York and didn’t vote for Trump told me she no longer watches the news. It doesn’t seem honest, she said. To her, it’s just noise.
We’ve heard that America is facing a “constitutional crisis” because Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. We’ve been warned of a “national security crisis” because Trump allegedly shared sensitive intelligence with the Russians.
But the media are missing the biggest story of all. Because of their excesses, and their feverish feud with the White House, there seems to be a growing number of Americans who don’t care what either side has to say.
Our country is suffering through an information crisis.
Reach Ruben Navarrette at firstname.lastname@example.org.