September 13, 2018

The Influence of Outrage Media

I'm in LOVE with the "Rachel Maddow Show"I suspect that one reason so many people have difficulty prioritizing what to be outraged about and effectively channeling their outrage into something productive (instead of something that may undermine their stated goals) might have to do with the news they consume. If the news media they select emphasizes the wrong things in their coverage, it may help to explain why so many seem to get outraged over less important things. Depending on how pervasive this is, we may not even hear about the sort of issues where outrage is not only warranted but could lead to meaningful action.

Even if it seems like there has been a trend in recent years where "outrage media" (i.e., news deliberately presented in such a way as to provoke outrage among viewers) has replaced much of the traditional news media, I do not think it is fair to dismiss all news media as outrage media. When I listen to NPR or watch the PBS NewsHour, I rarely feel as though I am being subjected to blatant attempts at emotional manipulation. Even a few minutes with the popular Fox News or MSNBC shows makes me feel this way. It isn't that there is no news value here; it is that one cannot help but recognize that one is being subjected to ideologically-driven propaganda aimed at confirming certain viewpoints and maintaining a steady state of outrage.

False equivalence! Sigh. I am not claiming that Fox News and MSNBC are equally bad. I am suggesting that many of the most popular pundit-based shows on both networks are bad in the sense that they push ideologically-driven propaganda and attempt to manipulate viewers emotionally. Saying that they have something in common is not the same thing as saying they are the same in their respective badness.

When I made the decision to stop watching the nightly MSNBC lineup a few years ago, I never imagined that doing so would make me less angry. I made some other changes at the time, so I could not initially be certain that pulling the plug on Rachel Maddow was the key factor; however, I am fairly certain of it now. Since late 2012-early 2013, I have resumed watching the PBS NewsHour regularly, and I've added back quite a few political new sources to my RSS reader (although I have been more selective about which ones than I used to be). Not only do I continue to be much less frequently outraged than I was when I was watching Maddow, but nuance makes far more sense. I find myself thinking more clearly (and critically) about the issues, recognizing that there are usually at least two valid perspectives.

In the end, I'm fairly certain that outrage media likely influences at least some of its regular viewers. I was one of them. And now that I've been able to step away from it for a while, I can say that I did not like how it affected me. I cannot be sure that everybody would be better off without it, but I think that I'm better off without it.