Many years ago a program called Television Awareness Training circulated throughout the United Methodist Church (and, for all I know, elsewhere). The presenters taught us things like how to “peel back the layers” to get to the actual messages of TV programming, including advertisements. For example, by watching several different automobile commercials, we were able to isolate their focus messages. One might be selling luxury, another safety, another low prices, and still another a slew of added entertainment features.
It occurred to me recently that we probably could benefit from resurrecting Television Awareness Training. I suddenly realized that we depend entirely on the people who tell us stuff to know what’s going on around us. Unless we are personally present for an event or incident, everything we know comes to us via a television lens or radio microphone or print medium (paper or digital).
That’s why it’s important to me to avail myself of the best balance of information I can find. On my car radio I have buttons set to CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News (yeah, I realize that’s two “left” channels to one “right,” but I think that’s sufficient). I tend to watch those same outlets if I’m going to catch their TV versions, but I also tune in to the local affiliates (ABC out of Philadelphia being my source of choice. I can compare notes with the local NBC and CBS affiliates when I’m at the fitness center, thanks to one gent who doesn’t believe that ABC carries “real news” and changes the channel).
My point is that when we express opinions on crucial topics — politics being one example — all we’re really doing is regurgitating what has come to us via some mass medium. And we tend to regurgitate the information that supports our pre-determined biases. “I’ve always thought [thus-and-so], and it must be true because I heard it on Fox News last night.”
The best we can do is to seek out a variety of sources for our information, accepting from the get-go that none of them is totally unbiased, and the truth most likely lies somewhere in the middle. Take everything with a grain of salt, because pretty much everybody has his or her own ax to grind.