Mize: What To Avoid While We Wait

Overconsumption of news can lead us farther from the truth.

by Frances Mize | 11/6/18 2:05am

In May of 2017, the United States Department of Justice launched an investigation into potential Russian attempts to influence the previous year’s American presidential election, as well as possible coordination between Russia and the Trump administration. Since then, as a country, we’ve reached a kind of impasse; a national gridlock, one born of a long, mired period of what for many feels like purgatorial waiting. During this time of opacity, reading and listening to the news has become, for many (including myself), a form of control. We get to latch onto the coverage of Mueller’s proceedings, assigning our own levels of significance to moments like the indictment of Michael Flynn and more recently, a foiled smear campaign to frame Mueller for sexual misconduct. People spend their time reading into his findings and framing them the way they want to see them. However, patience is running thin. Fortunately, for those of us feeling that we can’t take this much longer, reports of Mueller’s findings are expected to come flying back into the news following the midterm elections. 

But for months, accompanied by the uninterrupted stream of media coverage that has followed this story and this president from the beginning, people haven’t stopped holding their breath and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Those who lean liberal have absorbed and spit back out words like “cooperation,” “obstruction” and “memo.” More people are consuming news, and as a result, more of it is being produced to keep pace. Average weekly cable news consumption has increased by an hour and a half, and both Fox News and CNN report record-breaking viewership. 

This might be because many in this country have been trying to reconcile a deep-seated desire to “know what’s going on” with the fact that much of what’s going on is federally mandated as classified. The reality is that we may never have full access to the entire story. As a result of their inability to gain access to the inside scoop, people devour what is handed to them instead (occasionally indiscriminately), consuming the filler, auxiliary information. Some read op-ed pieces and New York Times listicles that rattle off in bullet points potential federal crimes. Others watch Rachel Maddow at 9 p.m. on weeknights, the guide they can always count on to uncover fresh instances of questionable activity and point out exciting new things to think about, to get excited and enraged about and to analyze while waiting for the next headline. Seeking out information has almost become a form of entertainment — not in the immediately recognizable form, but the kind that serves as mental preoccupation. In moments of uncertainty, it’s helpful to have something to think about. 

However, consuming information for the sake of consumption creates a dangerous appetite. A skyrocketing demand can pervert the product, and in this moment of political abnormality (to put it lightly), there is nothing that should be kept as unadulterated as media coverage. I do not mean to confront the desire and the right of an American citizen to stay informed and engaged in the proceedings of their country, especially a proceeding such as this one. My argument here is not one of those berating the media or modern “media bias.” It is the long tradition of this country to take advantage of and demand transparency, and the media plays an almost sacrosanct role in this country that makes that demand possible. 

But an excessive consumption of media in an effort to make things more clear may ultimately cloud reality and affect people’s assessments. It becomes problematic when information is commodified as entertainment, and both the desire for and the risk of this increases as Americans wait for whatever truth will be revealed upon the conclusion of the investigation. It also becomes problematic when subjective feelings of retribution overwhelm objective proceedings of governmental structure. As the next infuriating headline breaks, leave behind the feelings of vengeance of the “I told you so” kind and the belief that the evil means have reached their inevitable end. Let go of this idea that “this is what happens when you elect someone like him.” This is no simple game of cause and effect. There is no predetermined inevitability for the abuse of power. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said. Let’s not get lost in the length and bend of the arc as we wait for justice.