A study by Alan Berinsky in the British Journal of Political Science says that repeating a rumor, even a confirmed false one, only increases its power. This was especially prevalent in an election that saw “fake news” actually enter the mainstream conversation. No longer is this just a thing that hardcore journalists worry about. The president writes it in all caps on his Twitter.
Kids don’t want to read cold, objective journalism anymore. In the study conducted by Regina Marchi, teenagers want more personalized, “authentic” journalism. We are told to brand ourselves, as journalists and creators. We have to compete against cute kitty-cats and THE WORLDS BEST BACKFLIP for clicks. That’s something I’m sure Edward R. Murrow hadn’t been prepared for.
Aldous Huxley’s science fiction classic Brave New World talks about a society in which the government will not have to censor the public, because the public won’t care. It does not feel so deeply as to hurt itself, it is not moved so deeply as to change, it is not angered so deeply as to know that something is wrong. People have accepted the lives they are given because they are good lives. Well, good enough. “And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts.”
If someone doesn’t want to listen to a news organization who called the demagogue an honest man, they don’t have to. Turn the channel. Close the browser. Hit that handy little block button. Better yet, move on to the next website, who calls the demagogue a tyrant. The academics call this “self-selection bias.”
Our reach is incredible. Our voices can be heard almost everywhere. Edward R. Murrow said, “The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.”
And there have been attempts to safeguard against it. There have been news networks that have tried and tried to steer the conversation towards something resembling clarity again, whether by annotating speeches or going so far as to give “Pants On Fire” awards.
However, there is another quote that I think is a nice reflection against Murrow. It’s from Brave New World as well, and summarizes why all these safeguards and all this effort seems to just fly over the heads of those who need to hear it most. “In a word, they failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”