The news isn’t quite what it used to be

Tony Wilson
Boughton Law
Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, I watched more far more news than sports and I can recall, in varying degrees, the Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy assassination(s), the Mercury and Gemini space missions, the U.S. civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the moon landings, Watergate, and the Cold War; all through the lens of Walter Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, Harry Reasoner, and others on U.S. networks. I can’t recall anything newsworthy in Canada until the flag debate of 1965, the election of Pierre Trudeau in 1968, and the FLQ crisis in 1970; all of it broadcast on CTV and CBC.

I suppose I was, and still am, a news junkie, and get my news from The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The New York Times, the Vancouver Sun, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Atlantic, Harper’s, and the CBC. (I dropped the Huffington Post when I got tired of the celebrity gossip.)

I remember in the ’60s and ’70s serious issues being discussed by serious men (regrettably, there were no anchorwomen). I mention this, in part, to give free publicity to an excellent museum in Washington, D.C., called the Newseum, which, in a city filled with museums, is one dedicated to the freedom of the press. Not only is there a large chunk of the Berlin wall in the basement, there is the crumpled antenna that once sat atop the World Trade Center. It is displayed next to an emotionally charged documentary of news reports from that day that are still hard to watch. The Newseum is not to be missed.

I also mention this to illustrate the phenomenal change in “The News” over the past 20 years; prompted, in part by a lawyer friend of mine on Facebook last week making this post in exasperation: “Why in the hell do I go to CNN online? The top story is ‘Miley tweets from hospital.’ Buried down the page under world news: five dead in Calgary stabbing. Really CNN? Really?”

Whether it’s a function of the 24-hour news cycle, a function of North American fascination with celebrity gossip, or the fact we can get our news from any source we want and have it directed to our laptops or our iPhones, there are fundamental problems with “The News” in the second decade of the 21st century.

First, real news seems to be less important than news about Miley, Kim, Angelina, or other non-ebrities. Case in point? Today, as I write this, Time magazine has proclaimed Beyoncé to be the most influential person in the world. Yes folks, that’s the entire world. (Really Time? Really?)

The more significant problem is virtually everyone with a laptop or a smartphone (or for that matter, cable TV) has the ability to live in news bubbles, where the news they get is limited to the news they want.

So if you believe that Barack Obama is the worst president in American history and a socialist bent on destroying America, you can limit your news intake to Fox News and the Wall Street Journal; both controlled by Rupert Murdoch. If you think global warming is a hoax, you can include Christopher Booker’s columns from the Telegraph in your news feed. If you believe vaccinations cause autism and other ailments, you can include former Playboy model and media darling of the anti-vax movement, Jenny McCarthy in your news feed. And of course, you can always read/listen/watch Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and others whose political views you identify with, notwithstanding these men either get their facts wrong, or disregard facts entirely.

One can live in a bubble of anti-Obama, anti-Obamacare, anti-liberal, (and to some extent, anti-science) rhetoric that is devoid of balance because balance is not what these people are after. If you’re in this bubble, there’s no one there to call out “bullshit,” or to speak truth to power. And if you believe in civil society, as I do, it’s troublesome, because you can’t tell people what to watch, what to read, and what to believe.

I have an old friend who lives in the States who constantly posts the Fox News/Sean Hannity/Wall Street Journal view of the world to Facebook, and some of these posts are so crazy, it drives me crazy. But even though I’m tempted from time to time to delete her “feed,” (because to me, it’s all crap), I still believe in the freedom of the press.

Besides, it’s important not to confine your news intake to one bubble.

Free newsletter

The Canadian Legal Newswire is a FREE weekly newsletter that keeps you up to date on news and analysis about the Canadian legal scene. A separate InHouse Edition is delivered every two weeks, providing targeted news and information of interest to in-house counsel.

Please complete the form below to receive the weekly Canadian Legal Newswire and/or the Canadian Inhouse Legal Newswire.

Recent articles & video

Daphne Dumont to receive CBA’s Cecilia I. Johnstone award

Quebec taking harsh line on cannabis edibles

Will the conversation catalyzed by the Law Society of Ontario mean the end of articling?

Copyright law: set for an overhaul?

Corporate Counsel Survey 2019 closes on Monday, Aug 26

When Legal Aid is a political prop, Access to justice suffers

Most Read Articles

Canadian Judicial Council seeks leave to SCC in Girouard case

The Ontario government is destroying university legal clinics

Quebec taking harsh line on cannabis edibles

Will the conversation catalyzed by the Law Society of Ontario mean the end of articling?