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Five hundred channels, the world wide cluster, and Paul Harvey



I was too young to really hear Paul Harvey’s commentary on America during the 60’s and 70’s, although occasionally I would hear some episodes of “the rest of the story” from my parent’s radio that sat on top of our refrigerator while mom would be getting breakfast ready for me and my two siblings.


However, I have listened to his commentary in the years since. He was easy to listen to, and a lot of people listened. He had a way, I imagine as I sit in 2021, of bringing simple insights to complex topics. He was sharp as a blade, yet soft as a baby blanket. He made America, at least enough Americans from both sides, hear what makes us common. “So God Made a Farmer” is one of his most well-known speeches, and as Americans, we see the spirit of this country come alive in those words.


It’s easy to feel like we are living in more complex, more troubling times now. The quaint soothing assessment of America seems out of place. Why is that? Is it because we don’t believe it anymore? It seems naïve?


Well, there’s something else that used to be commonplace: public discourse and debate. The court of public opinion would allow for alternative points of view to be represented by journalists, in a mostly respectful manner and setting. Sure, there were outliers, and there was emotion, and protests. But it seemed like there was also a legitimate public square for legitimate discussion of alternative points of view.



Where Are We Now


There are several forces at work now that hamper the ability of Americans to see commonality of our country and our human condition. These include fragmented media and the challenge of immersion, ability to make connections with like-minded individuals anywhere in the world, and perceived anonymity of response to social stimuli. This post will focus on the fragmented media and implications for our decision-making.



Fragmented Media


We are in a world of information overload. Our screens throw windows on top of windows on top of windows trying to get our attention. We have dozens (hundreds?) of news sites that come at us daily. There are sources with a clear bias, and some that have extreme views. There are some sources with really good connections and intel, and vet with integrity, and others with “anonymous” sources that confirm a pre-existing emotional narrative.


So what do most of us do? Well, the scale of information is beyond our ability to review and assimilate. So, as a person begins to discern what is useful, a pattern of categorization and selection is required. This leads to a narrowing of sources, a “shorthand” for views that one has vetted in the past so, when seen again, can be approached or dismissed. Do this over and over again, and one finds oneself looking at the same sources with the same views as a means of survival of media overflow. This process, either inadvertent or advertent, leads to a hardening of viewpoint and opinion, since there is such limited exposure to other views.


Fighting against this requires time, diligence, and open-mindedness. It requires recentering for a moment, from a media point of view. Go back to the sources you’ve so easily dismissed. Actively search for information that contradicts your point of view. Look for truth-seekers on both sides (they do exist!), and see if there are any challenges to your worldview that are worthy to consider.


And, don’t let anyone tell you what or how to think about an issue, a source, or a person.


Come to your own, personal conclusion. I see so many instances where information is dismissed because the source has been publicly delegitimized by other (mainstream) news sources. Remember, one source telling you another source is delegitimate only serves to help the first source. There is a lot of excellent insight, data, commentary, and reporting that is not part of “mainstream”. Delegitimizing a person (whether in media or politics) is a means to never having to debate an issue or topic. To me, it’s an immediate loser strategy, yet in some corners, it is extremely effective.


Ad-hominem click-bait (an emotional salve on a partisan journey), which is at best usually wrong and at worst fear-mongering, only serves to divide, and feasts on the human need for validation. Feels good to hear about beating up the other side? Ok, but it does nothing to help your knowledge, understanding, or personal growth. It is a destructive indulgence. And it is widespread. It unfortunately has replaced actual debate in too many circles.


I want to be part of a society where the free exchange of ideas is available, and all of us can participate, review, question, and think. Right now, the debate is too hard to uncover. There is no intersection of discussion that legitimately allows for broad differences of opinion. One must trot between news sources, each with their own bias, to try to search for multiple sides of a concept, truth, or idea.


In the end, each of us can assess our own view of an issue without emotion, perhaps with a dash of humility, and an openness that we may not have the right answer. Find the good in people, and embrace that we may end up with different points of view.


And become your own Paul Harvey.


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