Saturday, October 17, 2020

Sabrina Basin

First Light at North Lake

I read about a guy this morning who, after a couple of years of immersion in QAnon, finally snapped out of its dark fantasy world. 

Lakeside Dawn

The most interesting part to me was the guy's reason for losing trust in the mainstream media and turning instead to fringe media: "It felt to him like the world was shocked by Trump's win. How had seemingly no one seen it coming? And most importantly, who had? 'I kind of switched off from all mainstream media,'" Jadeja said.

Still, Chilly Morning

It reminded me of my trip down conspiracy lane after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The possibility that the Bush Administration, or some other cabal, had orchestrated the whole thing, seemed at least believable enough to look into. After all, we had just recently experienced Florida's "hanging chad" shenanigans in the presidential election (another time when the popular vote was overruled by the electoral college), and the fact that the Supreme Court essentially made Bush president in a 5-4 vote along ideological lines, lent credence to the idea of nefarious actors in high places.

Taking a Break from it All

I read the conspiracy theories and watched the videos purporting to show the "squibs"--small explosive devices--going off and bringing down the World Trade Center towers. The reasoning seemed plausible, not just as to the why but also the how. And unlike the QAnon fantasy, the WTC attack really happened.

Creekside Aspens and Willows

But I didn't limit my internet research to conspiracy sites. I also looked at mainstream media sites and was probably finally convinced of the truth of the official explanation for how the buildings came down by an article in Popular Mechanics, a reputable media organization.

A Bend in the Stream

The thing is, sure the mainstream media is biased. But that's not the same as being malevolent, or unhinged, or even entirely incorrect. I like to browse The New York Times and Washington Post, and also Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. Although journalism isn't a licensed profession, reporters for major news organizations like these have professional standards that conspiracy theorists do not.

Aspen Grove

Bias in reporting (or anywhere else) isn't the same as lying. For one thing, an individual's bias is probably mostly unconscious. It's not as if journalists are trained to detect their own unconscious bias (although such training is available). Bias is mostly about choosing what stories to tell, what point of view to emphasize, and how prominently to display a story. Very rarely, a journalist does get caught lying, and they are demoted, shamed, or fired. There are professional standards in journalism, and folks like Alex Jones and Q do not meet those standards. Guys like Rush Limbaugh are not journalists but entertainers (at best).

Photographers at North Lake

In my own brief stint as a newspaper reporter I covered a Republican fundraiser where Rush Limbaugh was the keynote speaker. This was in the '80s, before he became a national figure. The one thing he said that has stuck with me all this time is that he had read all the left-wing material he could get his hands on, but that he just couldn't understand any of it. Here's a guy who gained a national audience as a political pundit despite being unable to understand a point of view other than his own.

Another thing I remember about that election cycle was covering the Democrats' fundraiser, which was a "bean feed" (literally franks and beans on paper plates) featuring March Fong Eu at the county fairgrounds, whereas the Republicans' fundraiser was a chicken cordon bleu lunch (with linen tablecloths) featuring Rush Limbaugh at an exclusive country club.

I keep hoping the national discourse will find its civil center, a place of mutual understanding and respect, but it seems like one political party wants us all to hold hands and sing kumbaya while the other wants to play winner-take-all hardball. That seems like a pretty tough pair of opposites to reconcile, but I believe it is possible and, more importantly, necessary, if we're going to rise to the challenges Mother Nature will continue slinging our way in the 21st Century.

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