The ancient Greek philosopher, Diogenes, famously carried a lantern as he looked futilely for an honest man. We’re talking over 2,000 years ago, so maybe we can put the current media hysteria about fake news in perspective.
However, the reality is that many of us today see reporters, TV hosts, bloggers and columnists as partisan propagandists. We view media outlets as centers of distortion, censorship and hypocrisy. Our conclusions are not without reason.
In the days when debate was actually a clearly defined skill, people recognized that being able to see your opponent’s point of view was necessary to argue your own case well. At the time of America’s founding, while there was propaganda and misinformation, there was even more learned debate and published material arguing for various perspectives. How amazing that Thomas Paine’s Common Sense or the Federalist Papers were read and discussed by everyday citizens (or citizens to be) not by obscure academics!
These observations led me to spend an hour listening to Oprah Winfrey’s interview with First Lady Michelle Obama. I had been struck by the contrast between highly negative articles including quotes from the interview and glowing reports of the interview on platforms from opposite sides of the political aisle. Not surprisingly, the comments under each article mostly shared the opinions expressed. I didn’t see anyone mentioning a few good points and a few troubling one. Everything I saw presented an analysis that was black or white as well as predictably in line with the author’s political views. I wanted to make up my own mind rather than have it made up for me.