A few days ago I was watching Neil Cavuto on Fox News Channel. He and his group of six were discussing the push toward greener energy, but mostly they were complaining about federal government tax incentives for electric cars. They were questioning whether the government had any business using taxpayer dollars to “incentivize” these vehicles. I couldn’t help but shake my head. I don’t recall anyone at Fox news ever complaining about government incentives given to Hummer and SUV owners during President Bush’ s administration. To be fair it was not something any of the networks made much fuss about back in 2003. I remember it mostly being covered on C-Span and in large newspapers. Some of the networks did short reports on it, but it never got the attention on TV or radio that “Cash for Clunkers” or the GM Chrysler “bailout” received.
I believe in a “free press” to keep the government honest, but I can’t help but wonder, who is keeping the media honest? Today our newspapers, magazines, websites, television, and radio are owned by a handful of media giant corporations. I’d like to believe that the information they dispense 24 hours a day is truly fair and balanced. I’d like to believe that information is researched and verified before it is reported as fact. I’d like to believe that the leaders of these businesses are all good guys in white hats determined to report the news accurately and objectively, even if the facts go against their own agenda. But… that is not the real world, is it?
In my real world time is limited. I catch a few minutes here, an hour there, or spend days completely oblivious to the world outside while I concentrate on issues closer to home. Some days I just don’t want to know. Mostly, though, I do want to keep up with what is happening in the world. I manage my time by listening to the news channels while I cook, clean, and do laundry. The Favorites button on my remote is programmed with just news channels: CNN, PBS, Headline News, MSNBC, Fox, and C-SPAN. I often switch from one channel to the next and compare what is being reported and discussed. I find a lot more “discussion” than reporting and little distinction is being made between the two.
Last August we had our primary in Missouri. There were no Democratic challengers on the ballot so the majority of voters that showed up were obtaining Republican ballots. While I was standing in line a frustrated young man announced very loudly to no one in particular, “I gave the Democrats a chance, but now they’re trying to take away social security! This is the last straw.” He clearly was not planning to vote for them.
You can find that same accusation made by either party on any given day, especially right before an election. I have read my history. I know that Social Security was originally passed by a Democratic congress and signed by Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 as part of the New Deal. It included unemployment insurance for the first time as well. I know that the Social Security Act of 1965 created Medicare and Medicaid, was passed by a Democratic congress, and signed by Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson. I know that Republicans always accuse Democrats of being Socialists, and I know that these “social programs” are a large part of the reason why. I know what happened in the past does not guarantee support in the present, and members of both parties talk about the drain these programs put on the budget.
What I didn’t know was what this young man had read or heard. Clearly, I had not been party to the same information he had. When I got home I checked several websites to see if I could find any recent information that would have caused his concern. I didn’t find anything. I wondered if he had seen one of those emails that keeps getting forwarded year after year. With no date on it the receiver just assumes it is current when it arrives in their mailbox. They read it and forward it to someone else…. a never-ending campaign ad.
As a voter I am troubled when other voters choose to get their information from just one or two sources, whether it is Fox or CNN or MSNBC or the internet or their neighbor. What is even more troubling is when smart people believe whatever they read or hear without questioning it. Most troubling is once they believe it themselves they spread their fear to others. I call it the “Chicken Little Effect” because it reminds me of the children’s story that briefly goes like this:
Chicken Little heard something fall to the ground. He looked up, saw the sky, and concluded that the sky was falling. He ran to his friend, Goose, and told her that the sky was falling. Goose believed him and ran with him to tell another friend. Soon there was a whole group of friends, running around in a panic crying, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” Finally, they met up with a friend who asked, “Where were you when the sky began to fall?” Retracing their steps Chicken Little and his friends discovered that it was not a piece of sky that had fallen but an apple from a nearby tree.
Since other voters ultimately determine the politicians and policies that impact my life, I pray everyday that my fellow voters educate themselves as much as time allows in their real world. I don’t want to be a Chicken Little, and I think most voters don’t want to be either. I have a rule I use to help balance my time and stress when something I’ve read or heard upsets me. I make the rule pretty direct. I also call it my rule. These two methods make the rule easier for me to remember. I would be honored if other voters used the rule too, so feel free to change the name and make it your rule:
If I have time to get upset about it, I must find time to verify it. If I choose not to verify it, I need to shut up about it.