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As I've noted here a few times:

Just over 10 years ago, I conducted an experiment. I watched an hour of CNN every night but it was never that night's coverage. It was from exactly two weeks ago.

It was amazing how much "breaking news!" was irrelevant or just outright wrong, how many large trend predictions were wrong, and how many "[person] will do X" were wrong. While the predictions could have been portrayed as opinions, they were presented as facts and the obvious next steps or conclusions.

I realized pretty quickly that avoiding CNN kept out the blatantly wrong information so even if I didn't replace it with anything, I was net ahead.

A few years ago, I discovered this article and realized that some portion of it was probably on purpose:


It always surprises me to what degree US cable news, as opposed to print, seems to treat politics like entertainment and sports coverage. At least from an outsider's perspective. Maybe no surprise a reality TV star became President.

Commercial television news is very manipulative and the intent of the manipulation is to keep eyeballs glued to the screen to sell ads. They use lots of elaborately animated transitions with bright colors, swooshing sound effects and musical cues to mesmerize viewers, just as slot machines in Vegas use such things to mesmerize gamblers. It's the same sort of graphical bullshit they pad out televized American football with. And the talking head personalities emotively reading from teleprompters are there for viewers to form parasocial relationships with, to keep viewers coming back to that channel. Before social media was invented, the term was created to describe the asymmetric relationships television viewers have with television personalities. The whole industry has manipulation down to a science and I think anybody would be better off reading newspapers instead. Public funded news channels may be better, I remember PBS's News Hour was okay. But is there any value in watching CNN instead of reading the NYTimes? I don't see any.

I was living with a host family when I first saw American TV.

I just couldn't tell when the actual show is on. The shows, the news, the ads, and whatever else there was, they all had the same "air". The same kind of music, the same kind of cadence, the same kind of tone, the same kind of fake laugh.

TV is pretty shit everywhere; but I can't understand it in US.

Confusingly, some of the greatest TV shows are US shows. But I have to watch them on Netflix/DVD, because the actual TV breaks apart the show into tiny pieces that take away the enjoyment entirely.

I consider myself lucky that I never get sucked into the habit of watching TV.

I had a similar experience. I was a tourist in New York for a week and watched a bit of TV. It was like an exaggerated parody of itself. It felt positively dystopian.

Nowadays I can't even watch swedish TV. I can't stand the ads.

What surprised me was the drug ads.

A friend used to stream basketball games live, and when I watched every ad break had an ad for a (prescription?) drug.

It felt like something I'd see in a movie/TV show mocking TV ads. A parody, like you said.

Those are crazy. I think in general what struck me was the sheer volume of heavy handed and often poorly produced ads quite bluntly stating "buy our product or you might DIE!"

Also: "take our product and you might die"

American here, and I have to agree.

I think it has to do with the fact that the only people left watching TV (As in cable), mostly just want noise and bright colors, while people watching TV (As in shows) have moved on to Netflix/Prime/Piracy.

TV has also become shit in India. Indian news is now on a whole new level of shitshow - leaving even the US behind.

Print media and public stations don't have the same high-strung presentation that cable news does, but the actual substance isn't much better in my experience. The last few times I listened to NPR they seemed to be pretty deep into the horse race style reporting, distracted "Breaking News!"-style reporting, and lots of speculation. Print media as well.

What the other poster suggested is something I also highly recommend - read old news, and see how many of the stories the news media was obsessed with and treated as a huge deal turned out to be nothing in the end. Putting a custom time range in searches is a great way to do this. Often there's little to no followup to stories, or new narratives get created that completely rewrite what happened. News junkies get left with a highly skewed version of reality.

>The last few times I listened to NPR they seemed to be pretty deep into the horse race style reporting, distracted "Breaking News!"-style reporting, and lots of speculation. Print media as well.

As a dedicated listener to NPR, here's my advice:

- The 6 minutes of headline news at the top of every hour covers all you might need to know.

- The more reporting-style programs (All Things Considered, Morning Edition) often have good interviews with figures directly involved in the news. Of course, these are only worthwhile if the person hasn't already been on a national platform. Politicians and lawyers will just pretend to answer questions as they read prepared statements.

- Everything else is entertainment.

I like it, but I'm not deluded enough to look down on anyone (e.g. my wife) who finds it boring.

That six minute hourly news summary is available as a podcast. It's nice to dip into it when I want to hear the latest.

I wouldn’t even put it in the pedestal of psychological manipulation. It’s gossip, the same as teen magazines and tabloids. They just dress it up with authority.

Standard low minded stuff.

I tune in for some gossip from time to time, no harm no foul. But jesus, do it all the time and you might as well become this:


I disagree. In 'our' constitution there is the "Recht auf körperliche Unversehrtheit / Right to physical integrity(of your body)" as in it is forbidden to harm you. I'd extend that to a right to mental integrity, which that sort of shit is in continous violation of. And even if you don't directly consume it, the 'overspill' alone is toxic enough.

In other words: mass media is one big superfund site.

I’ll concede to the fact that they are in a sense polluting our population (no different than carbon footprint).

I don’t know, it’s all very odd given that big tech is banning misinformation now days, but big media has no such imperative. They will run with the most unsubstantiated stuff for however long it’s profitable (Russia-gate). Their modus operandi in terms of carving out markets is to do the opposite of another network/publication and claim that territory as their feeding ground. How do you even begin to treat waters like this?

Kind of shows who is really powerful, Qanon or the rampant proliferation of party talking points. One of those is a legit 4chan meme, so do the math.

It actively writes the public narrative and fills the space in your head but the toxicity is in forcing out that what should have been there. The things that should have been there ideally are feedback loops. Their rewards and punishments encourage you to do your own practical goal oriented thinking. Your head is filled with the war effort therefore you didn't plant that first fruit tree, the other trees and bushes that should have followed didn't happen and you are not eating the fruit reminding you of what you did every year that followed. You in stead read about Chiquita murdering employees and want to buy a banana.

It's manipulative both in the narrative sense (they're preaching to the choir) but also in a sense the commenter made - 'like they do in Vegas'.

The big focus on the 'head only' now on CNN, because that's more engaging - personalities who are almost always 7.5/10 - i.e. nice to look at but not ultra-attractive, the ability to appear 'just credible enough in tone and disposition and yet also empathetic' - that posture is important. And then background, the overlays - it's designed like the environment in Vegas.

Go to CNN.com right now and let the ad for Cuomo's show run - listen to the words he is using, listen to the music, the specific text that they overlay. They are communicating "It's panic time in America, is your heart racing? Because this is so important, and we have the 'Truth' for you here, tune in at 8pm".

These are all generally intelligent, well intentioned people, but the ultra focus on eyeballs and attention really hurts credibility.

During an election cycle it gets much worse, it's almost impossible to watch any cable news outlet right now.

Agree, as a non-American I read the WP, the NYT and in Germany stuff like the Sueddeutsche. When I watch US news, aside from late night stuff which became surprisingly good at this, it is left-leaning, e.g Rachel Maddow or Chris Hayes. i can't stand CNN. And yes, i am aware that the mentioned TV news shows are a lot opinion. But I do also get the same news from European sources, so there is a balance. I reall do have to stop watching that stuff after the election it is nauseating, but pretty damn important, not just for the US.

Written news and commentary (mainly online) is not that different. When Trump caught covid, there were endless articles speculating about how severe his illness was or whether a second week with the virus would bring about more severe symptoms. Just a bunch of suppositions and hypotheticals to get you to click and spend a few minutes reading.

The main loss from all this is not wasted time but that serious issues receive less discussion in favor of what's happening right now and what it could possibly mean.

I mean, the current President of CNN was previously in charge of NBC's primetime programming when he lined up Trump for The Apprentice. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/20/business/media/jeff-zucke...

It was a race to the bottom driven by ratings.

I stopped religiously reading news after I stumbled upon Aaron Swartz's blog post on the topic [0] way back when!

I'd say I have been insulated from the depressiveness of it all ever since but also that I've lost the ability to meaningfully participate or contribute to socio/economical/political discussions that seem to dominate any gathering of modest size [1].

[0] http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/hatethenews

[1] This quote particularly hits home: The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies. --Bretolt Brecht (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/541442-the-worst-illiterate...)

[1] sounds like a good quote, but keep in mind that the author of that quote was a tacit supporter of Leininsm and Stalinism, and initially supported East Germany's murderous repression of union labor.

In practice many people who "hate politics" are, I think, at least partially motivated by not desiring to get into conversations with people who would call them "illiterate" and "imbecile" for, yanno, not supporting evil authoritarianism and the nonsense pseudophilosophy that motivates it.

I think many people would not "hate politics" were it not for the nature of the politically-motivated to look down on those who disagree.

Also keep in mind that the quote is from a different time. Today if something important happens I will find out about it even if I don't want to. An acquaintance will text me, or it will be discussed somewhere (everywhere perhaps) online. You'd have to make a huge effort to be "politically illiterate" in the sense Brecht describes, well beyond not reading the news.

I'm not sure that is true. Even the illiterate can see the problems. But he will not know how they came to be, or how they could be resolved. That the politician promising to fix it all will just make it worse.

> Even the illiterate can see the problems. But he will not know how they came to be, or how they could be resolved.

Will the literate know? It seems similar to a sports fan saying what the coach should do. They absolutely know that if they'd just do X, they'd win. I have zero knowledge about professional sports. My guess is that neither I nor that kind of fan actually do know how to coach a professional sports team.

I believe it's similar in politics. If you don't become a subject matter expert -and I don't mean "politics expert", I mean a tiny field and literally expert, like seasonal effects on labor requirements in some specialized industry- you don't know how to fix "it" whether you watch 0 or 10 hours of news a week.

What experiences have you had in the world that make you think things are so complicated? From what I've seen in my short time, it seems like when you get "experts" in a room you get closed-mindedness because everyone thinks alike. I can't even begin to think of an example were a voter would need to be an expert to be informed. But I can think of dozens of examples of bad policies that experts have backed. Book bans, carbon credits, moral hazards in our stimulus packages, bad trade deals, eugenics etc.

There are obvious things like "should we just blow up the planet for lolz?" where you don't need to be an expert. But there's also a lot of stuff where a universe of complexity expands once you look close enough. Things have unintended side effects, and the average voter will not and can not spend the time to look close enough to even notice that there are side effects, much less what they are or how they are connected.

"That's easy, just do X" is usually something non-experts say, me included in things that I know nothing about. I like to look into some of those things and usually learn that it's not as simple as a cursory glance makes it look. That's also why most people shouldn't be day traders.

That may be true in many times and places, but to be German, in the East of the country, through the period of the 20th century in which he lived -- politics was rather thrust upon you. And the politically literate and illiterate alike had rather more to fear than "multinational companies".

> a tacit supporter of Leininsm and Stalinism

..."tacit" meaning that Brecht never actually said it. An ad hominem argument addresses the person and not their claims....

Sometimes I wonder if it's such a terrible thing to be politically illiterate. After seeing how everyone was misled into invading, plundering and destroying Iraq, I don't know if it's really possible to trust the reality we are presented. We only know once the dust settles.

You could also be politically literate, but completely blind or apathetic to the realities of other people.

I'd like being politically illiterate, but morally and ethically educated.

If politics is manufactured outrage and pandering to the lowest common denominator, and ethics is the study of universal moral invariants, those core values that should always apply when making decisions... I'd say screw political engagement.

> I'd like being politically illiterate, but morally and ethically educated.

> If politics is manufactured outrage

But it's not; politics is everything concerning government.

Manufactured outrage is a common tool for manipulating the politically illiterate.

I would state it even more broadly: Politics is everything concerning how society is organised. Of course, government is a big part of that, but it is not the whole. For example, how mutual trust in society is created or eroded is a political question in my mind.

I agree news can be mentally harmful but I actually think I disagree with Aaron's position here. The way he writes makes it sound like your citizenship and influence on policy and politics starts and ends every four years (or two) when you vote for new politicians.

Personally I believe this should be the bare minimum of democratic involvement. Voting is important, but you can do more than just that if you do decide you care about something -- contact representatives, attend local hearings or meetings, start petitions, etc.

This view of news consumption (i.e. don't bother) works when you only engage with your government via the ballot.

There's a balance to be had. You probably shouldn't be waiting for CNN's push notifications with bated breath, but I find that weekly is a good enough cadence to follow along with what's happening without getting too stressed out.

I also try not to read sensationalist news that is unlikely to move the needle on how I feel about something (e.g. the 9000th variation on "Trump said X")

I used to live near CNN Center and would go there frequently for lunch. As you'd expect, they had large screens in the atrium so you could watch CNN while you ate or shopped. It was a nice convenience. Over time the tone of what they presented changed drastically and I couldn't stand to listen to it even long enough to eat. Though the content also had declined in quality, it was the tone, the non-stop outrage and anger being presented that made me start eating at Peachtree Center instead. It really was vile and I can't see why anyone would want to pump that into their home and into their brains. It wasn't always that way.

Thank you for sharing this great experiment!

I'd love a news source that gives me relevant information at lower frequency and, water reading your description, with some delay. Maybe every two weeks and the content covers two weeks with a two week delay. So the oldest news would be over month old when I get it.

Years ago someone on the a16z podcast claimed that more frequent news is more negative in its content than less frequent news. They proposed the thought experiment of a newspaper that only gets published ones a century. Yes you'd cover the world wars, but a lot of space would go to incredible medical discoveries, human rights advancements, improved living conditions for the vast majority of people, fewer famines, etc.

For better and worse, a low frequency publication will have the benefit of hindsight, which can lead to deeper thought but also a big bias in coverage. There is a tendency to create grand unified theories of the past, and pretend contrary stuff didn't exist.

Reading a higher frequency publication with a delay will reveal how much ambiguity there really was.

A popular German speaking author made a similar case years ago: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/apr/12/news-is-bad-ro... Also published a book about that issue recently. Basically, you'll be much better informed and have better mental health by only reading a monthly publication and books instead of following daily news.

You could conduct the same experiment reading online predictions about computer/internet technology from years ago. This is one of the most dominant types of "breaking news" one will find on the internet. It is especially entertaining to look at the "tech" news in the years leading up to the dot-com bust. People who contribute "content" over the internet and those who consume it seem to have a love affair with trends and making predictions.

I like to imagine, that if "oh my god the world is ending and its because gasp donald trump" had a physical manifestation, it would be CNN.

This is exactly how I decide to watch or read something on the net.

1. Read the headline. 2. Ask - Is the topic likely to be relevant after 2-3 weeks? 3. If yes - Read/Watch it. 4. If no - Ignore.

I would posit that using CNN was a problem for that experiment. I would say that you at most confirmed CNN was illegitimate which is not much of a surprise.

Aren't news outlets required to rectify information they got wrong?

Genuinely don’t know where you got that idea

The legal right to demand rectification is a fact in at least one EU country: https://www.erc.pt/pt/perguntas-frequentes/sobre-a-imprensa (in portuguese)

sounds like some weird moral thing

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