The writing of THE TRUTHINESS OF TELEVISION, AND WHY YOU NEED TO KNOW THE FACTS, has been an evolution of watching the character of television news along with other news sources change over the past ten years. While talk radio has been around since the 1970’s and has recently grown exponentially, my reference to news is television.
In 1980, I worked for Warner-Amex Cable (Warner Bros and American Express) in New York when I was invited down to the World Trade Center to look at the new bureau for a 24 hour news channel started by Ted Turner – CNN. This was the first 24 hour cable news channel. The bureau was located in the lobby of 1 World Trade Center, with glass-sided cubicles where passers-by could observe the action. The only show originated from this bureau was the afternoon business report at 6:00pm. We were there to see the show.
We arrived early to meet the producers and have a tour of the bureau. It was really small, only a couple makeshift, glass cubicles put together with one used for production equipment and the other a small studio. About 10 minutes before air time producers excused themselves to get the phone calls set up---we asked “why the phone calls?” Well, they explained, we have only a shoe-string budget with no network lines permanently established, so we have to queue the show on the phone. Even by 1980 standards, this was primitive.
But this was the beginning, ground zero, for news as we know it today. There are multiple 24 hour news channels dedicated to various aspects of the news. CNN was just the first. Now we have not only CNN, but Headline News, MSNBC, Fox News, CNBC, Fox Business News, Bloomberg News, and TruTV (Court TV), C-SPANN I and C-SPANN II. The 24 hour cable channels are in addition to PBS news and documentary shows, national network news and local television station news. And, these do not take into account the internet with news web sites and bloggers.
The major thesis of the book is that in the past ten years, with the multiple sources of news distribution, the way viewers choose news sources and interpret the news has been profoundly altered. News shows have become interactive, with audience choice and input an integral part of the news environment.
Of course, these changes have altered the presentation, look and feel of news shows. News presenters have become “celebrities” many with little claim to serious journalism criteria. In fact, journalism standards have been all but eliminated. The news channels are owned by corporate conglomerates with primary interest in advertising revenue. The separation between pure journalism and entertainment has disappeared gradually over the past ten years.
The corresponding audience response to news has also been altered. Today we can choose from such a menu of sources and points of view where ALL political positions can be supported. News channels present not only differing commentary, but different facts, that make it difficult to know just what represents something close to truth. This support from such a societal authority as television news lends credence to the polarized audiences.
Exactly how this polarization occurs, both for the news media and political culture, is the subject of this book. Demand for corporate revenue, prevalence of news commentary, selective facts, influence of advertising, choosing news sources that support existing belief (confirmation bias) and how emotion sustains the process are explored.
Understanding this phenomenon can shed light on how we can manage and mitigate the unwanted outcomes that such polarization has produced, such as policy grid-lock that prevent movement of any kind. While scientists are required to know and practice the scientific method, even people who consume media can understand the importance of media literacy and how to questions various sources of news and entertainment. Understanding and teaching this phenomenon in a classroom setting can mitigate its impact on both informed readers and young people to produce civic hallmarks needed in our democracy.
The news media has been our "fourth estate" or fourth branch of government since the founding of America. A fair and accurate news and information system is integral to our democracy. We must know what we are voting for if we are to maintain our principles of freedom. At the same time understanding how and why we process the information given, and how we form beliefs, must be understood in a way that makes us enlightened rather than have our beliefs reinforced. The goal of this book is to make readers aware of how television is "truthy" and even more aware of how the mind takes in and processes information, and in doing so brings informed citizens. "Truthiness" makes us feel better, but facts makes us informed and better citizens.