24-Hour News Media: Feeding the Dumb

24-Hour News Media: Feeding the Dumb

24-Hour News Media: Feeding the Dumb

One would think that the expansion of the 24-hour news media cycle would make our society a better-informed, smarter one. After all, when one has access to the latest news and information around the clock, one becomes more knowledgeable, literate, and better able to understand the world, right?


I can hear all of you readers laughing your collective asses off, because far from feeding the intellect of society, the 24-hour news media cycle is actually feeding the dumb.

Why is this happening? I have a few theories that involve access, competition, parasitic inter-dependency with the government, and the advent of McNews, as well as the rise of social media and the erosion of education.

The Internet is such a glorious thing! When I was on active duty and started working on my Master’s Degree, I was amazed and delighted that I could access academic articles on this thing called “The Internet,” and that I had electronic news and information at my fingertips, ready to be ingested and absorbed.

Now, I’m horrified.

It’s becoming tougher and tougher to discern what is false and what is reality. We have amazing tools at our disposal – smart phones, tablets, and even Internet capable watches and glasses – and yet, we spend our time weeding out anything that doesn’t confirm our biases and immediately feed our need for outrage. We argue endlessly with strangers on social media without spending any time supporting our contentions. Our attention spans have shrunk, and our appetite for research and analysis has disappeared. We would rather get news from memes than expend the effort digging deeper to find out more. The brightly colored backgrounds on Facebook make our brain droppings “pop,” so more people take note, no matter how dumb our brain droppings are!

Courtesy of Wikipedia; CC BY-SA 4.0

If you support the President’s policies – any policy at all – or post anything remotely positive about him, you are automatically branded a fascist/Nazi/homophobe/misogynist/racist.

If you post anything remotely critical of the President, you are branded a “NeverTrumper,” a “Hillary supporter,” or simply a “liberal.”

There is no thought behind these insults and no effort to comprehend the views of your Internet opponent.

We have written about all this before. Media bias and Americans’ inability to research and analyze information is not news. But as I examine my own biases and interactions on a daily basis, I realize that it’s the 24-hour news media cycle that is largely responsible for the degradation of the American intellect.

Media access and competition go hand-in-hand. The 24-hour news media cycle has made competition for access more intense and vicious. Exclusives get readers. Readers see ads. Ads bring revenue. Exclusives bring a certain amount of credibility. Getting there first and providing that initial burst of information to the news-hungry consumer trumps accuracy.

Americans no longer turn away from inaccurate reporting, as long as their news source gets them that information first. How many times have we seen erroneous information posted about a shooting in initial reports? Here are just a few headlines to sample:

Shooting at Walmart in Baton Rouge: Initial report that fight led to gunfire incorrect, sheriff says

Media Misfire: Accusing the Wrong Man in Connecticut Shooting

CBS, NBC retract Navy Yard shooter reports – POLITICO

The panic and confusion during mass shooting events often leads to wrong information, but in its rush to get an exclusive, the media often misidentifies the culprit. Worse, some outlets immediately start digging for information about the perpetrators politics in order to bring “credibility” to their own side and paint the other side as “evil.”

Last year, a gamer murdered two people and wounded numerous others at a video game tournament. The media jumped into action, claiming to have identified the Reddit account used by the shooter with the pseudonym “Ravenchamps.”

“Ravenchamps” did not belong to the shooter, who the police say was a Baltimore resident named David Katz and who killed himself in the shooting. And the announcement caused considerable trouble for the real person who owned the account.

The fringe sites Infowars and Gateway Pundit, plus far-right commentator Mike Cernovich and reporter Ian Miles Cheong, claimed that “Ravenchamps” — similar to Katz’s frequent video game username “Ravens2012champs” — was operated by the alleged shooter before his death. They pointed to the account’s rhetoric that repeatedly slammed the president, along with other political figures, pointing out a comment where Ravenchamps called users “Trumptards.”

But the real owner of the account was a Minnesota native named Pavel, who returned to Reddit on Monday to see dozens of people claiming he was dead.

But the problem is larger than mass murders. Remember MSNBC’s rush to report on supposed loans taken out by Donald Trump that were allegedly co-signed by Russian oligarchs? The claim was based on a single-sourced, unverified report, but in its rush to be first with an “exclusive,” about the evils of Trump, MSNBC jumped the gun and published the story, which – like many liberal media’s reports on this administration – turned out embarrassingly wrong.

The Intercept has a whole list of embarrassing media failures on the Trump-Russia story – some borne of a political desire to smear the President, and others from a pathological need to gain an exclusive.

There was only one problem with this Russian hacking story: it was false. The suspicious activity was not linked to Russian government efforts to access critical infrastructure. The Washington Post had to retract its breaking news story on this attempted Russian hack, and in 2017, several journalists had to resign from CNN because they recklessly reported, based on a single, anonymous source, that then-Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci was linked to a Russian investment fund that was under Congressional investigation. The 24-hour news media cycle and the desire to get the exclusive defeated any effort to get corroborating information and examine the source before publication.

We at Victory Girls generally avoid Gateway Pundit and idiots like Cernovich like the plague, because they frequently peddle conspiracy theories and twist information to suit their political purposes.

This is not the first time Gateway Pundit has misidentified someone who committed an attack or mass shooting. The site said the Charlottesville car attack was conducted by an “anti-Trump protester” who in reality was hundreds of miles away at the time of the attack. The site also named the wrong person in the Las Vegas mass shooting, and spun an elaborate conspiracy based on an anonymous Twitter post which identified the wrong person in a mass shooting at the airport in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, in January 2017.

Cernovich, an early promoter of the “pizzagate” conspiracy theory who has been touring Arizona with Republican Senate candidate Kelli Ward, was cited in the Gateway Pundit article saying Katz was a “member of the Resistance,” pointing to Pavel’s Reddit account. Cernovich has since apologized, adding, “The mass shooter’s Reddit handle is different from one that previously circulated.”

And yet, we still see these types of “sources” being used to bolster the political case of one side or another.

Shortly before September 11, the President had planned to meet with the Taliban at Camp David – a tonedeaf and insane drive to declare a “success” in Afghanistan, even as the Taliban was killing Americans and others and proudly claiming responsibility. In Trump’s defense and to diffuse criticism, another turnip, Jack Posobiec, tweeted a meme implying that the President meeting with the Taliban was faux outrage, because Ronald Reagan did so when he was president.

There’s only one problem with this claim, as Jim LaPorta points out: the Taliban didn’t come into existence until 11 years after the meeting with the Mujahideen captured in this photo. The United States in 1983 was embroiled in the Cold War against Russia, and the Mujahideen were allies in that realm.

The derpy jackass also claimed victoriously that the President was having “secret” meetings with the Taliban to negotiate a “ceasefire” in Afghanistan, while the media was melting down over Sharpiegate. To be sure, the Sharpiegate outrage was idiotic – so moronic, that even the leftist Vox slapped CNN around for making it a thing. But Posobiec’s drive to show just how “Presidential” Donald Trump was for holding ceasefire negotiations with a terrorist group, and implying how he outsmarted everyone with these supposedly “secret” meetings, trumped (no pun intended) his obligation to report truthfully (he is, after all, a correspondent for One America News Network) or to do a modicum of research to discover that there was nothing secret about these negotiations that had been happening and reported about for more than a year.

Questionable sources, the rush to be first, and what I like to call McNews – the fast food of information – are driving down the collective IQ of audiences nationwide. Americans want news as it happens. They want it fast, and they want it in a digestible form. The 24-hour news media cycle gives us that crack – the quick, simple news to which we have become addicted. The shrinking soundbite is nothing new, but it did pave the way for the rise of the meme as a news source and the demand for quick and easy.

According to a 2011 academic study in the academic journal “Journalism Studies,” newspaper quotations have been getting shorter since the late 1800s, so shorter soundbites had to logically follow suit, and the study’s authors argue that this is not always a bad thing.

The sound bite, they argue, stems less from a collapse in standards or seriousness than from the rise of a more sophisticated and independent style of journalism — which means the sound bite might not be such a bad thing. Letting politicians ramble doesn’t necessarily produce a better or more informative political discourse.

Although I agree that blithering politicians do not lead to a better informed environment, what has evolved from the incredible shrinking soundbite is a propensity to edit out not just extraneous information, but information critical to understanding the issue at hand, giving partisans the ability to manipulate information to suit their need and giving audiences the quick and easily digestible “news” they desire to confirm their biases.

I learn more effectively from reading on a screen, as do many others, according to a recent study. The study discovered that “people who used computer screens for learning did better when it came to understanding concrete details, but they had more difficulty understanding abstract concepts.” In other words, if you need to know the concrete facts about an event, such as a timeline, computer learning is quite effective. However, if you want to understand why an event happened, paper learning may still be best.

And this, as I see it, is the problem. The advent of the Internet and its 24-hour news media cycle gives us the immediate gratification of a “what,” but has dulled the desire for more information explaining the “why.”

Finally, I want to address the parasitic relationship between government and media outlets. Luckily, we do not have a state-run media, and our Constitution protects the freedom of the press. However, the symbiotic relationship between government and media cannot be denied.

During Barack Obama’s first term, 25 members of the media joined the administration, including Time magazine’s managing editor Richard Stengel and former journalist Samantha Power, who became the Obama Ambassador to the United Nations.

Jay Carney, a White House press secretary for four years following Robert Gibbs, also came by way of Time magazine.

Sasha Johnson, who was a CNN senior political producer, went on to be the Department of Transportation’s spokeswoman in 2009 before becoming chief of staff for the FAA.

Former CBS and ABC reporter Linda Douglass quit broadcasting to join the Obama 2008 campaign. She was eventually rewarded with a communications director position for the Office of Health Reform.

Kelly Zito of San Francisco Chronicle left the paper to work for the EPA’s public affairs office in 2011.

Meanwhile, the staff for the new Trump administration in 2017 looked like a Fox News breakroom.

Allowing former journalists and editors to join a presidential administration gives media networks exclusive access and insider information. Hiring them back after their stint in an administration is over provides insider insight, as well as scores of contacts media outlets can access for those much-desired exclusives and feeds the 24-hour news media cycle.

One would think that access to infinite amounts of information during any time of day would create a smarter, more informed electorate.

Instead, we now have barely literate, knuckle dragging, hunched troglodytes, reading nothing but headlines and watching cat videos on the Internet.

Featured photo courtesy of: pixel2013 on Pixabay; cropped, resized; Pixabay License 

Written by

Marta Hernandez is an immigrant, writer, editor, science fiction fan (especially military sci-fi), and a lover of freedom, her children, her husband and her pets. She loves to shoot, and range time is sacred, as is her hiking obsession, especially if we’re talking the European Alps. She is an avid caffeine and TWD addict, and wants to own otters, sloths, wallabies, koalas, and wombats when she grows up.

  • GWB says:

    One would think that the expansion of the 24-hour news media cycle would make our society a better-informed, smarter one.
    No, if you gave it some thought you would realize that it will 1) over-hype everything and 2) it will replace the soaps and 3) humans don’t improve very often or well.

  • GWB says:

    Americans want news as it happens. They want it fast, and they want it in a digestible form.
    I’ve looked in vain for you to place the blame where it at least partially belongs: not with the pusher but with the addict.

    Jay Carney, a White House press secretary
    Along with the others, I don’t mind this too much. PR flacks and such (heck, “press secretary” has it right in the name!) are very likely to be media folks (or corporate ad folks – but who would trust them?*).

    Hiring them back after
    It isn’t just the media folks who have this revolving door problem. Lobbyists all over are former executive branch officials and – where they’re not the congresscritters themselves – aides of Representatives and Senators. (Oh, and let’s not forget the military-industrial complex. That’s rife with it, though there’s no revolving back into the actual military. And I say that as a member of the complex, having worked for 2 decades now in the contractor branch of the military.)

    a smarter, more informed electorate
    No. Sadly, Marta, you’re failing to take into account human nature. Along with the consistent dumbing down of critical thought in our schools, humans tend to not be very wise. They often repeat mistakes and seldom learn from history – their own or that of others. Bread and Circuses is something that will work so very, very often. (And all the above, plus more, is exactly that.)

    If we want an educated, wise, moral electorate, we will have to build one. And we’ll have to do it with the materials we’ve got (not with the ubermensch the progs believe they can create). Unfortunately, we’ll probably have to go through real hard times to make that happen.

    Until then, I’d almost rather they be watching cat videos – as long as they don’t vote.

    (* That’s sarcasm, btw. But an interesting experiment popped into my head: how about hiring a used car salesman as the White House Press Secretary? LITERALLY a used car salesman. I think that might be tremendously fun!)

  • […] Victory Girls Blog: 24 hour news media feeding the dumb. […]

  • Kevin says:

    Marta … Your articles are so well footnoted with confirmed/documented examples. Occasionally you provide examples from all sides but generally examples to make your point are more specific to a conservative individual or concept that was not true or verified. I remember imploding when I heard Brett Baier announce LIVE ON FOX NEWS (the “news” part of Fox News that wasn’t the “entertainment” portion which is filled with fake news and conspiracy theories … just like MSNBC’s “entertainment” hosts) that Hillary Clinton was indicted over her email use and then later (within the hour long program) had to go back and retract that statement. Sadly, it had already caused damage and provided a headline for conservatives. Again, I agree with many of your points.

    Here’s where I agree with your overall concept … the 24 news cycle and internet are not an improvement on our society. The internet provides a dangerous avenue for people with malicious intent to find one another feel supported by others who share the same ideology. 30 years ago the pedophile in middle America was isolated and probably understood that few people had the same inclinations as he did. Now, today, pedophiles are a thriving community on the internet and are emboldened by knowing there are many just like them out there.

    The 24 hour news cycle creates a huge burden on the media to provide 365, 24/7 stories to continue to engage (I would venture to say “addict”) the viewer. It’s addicting and it’s dangerous. People are sitting in front of their televisions or on the internet continually feeding their addiction with information (fake and real) that mirrors their perspective on the world and are unable to branch out to hear another perspective. Like drug addiction, the neurons need more and more of that drug in order to have the same high/effect as it did the previous day. It’s not healthy. We also become immune to more and more ludicrous stories and perspectives. Mr. Trump has forever changed the office of the presidency. In my opinion not for good. To immediately, in real time, disparage/threat/confront (use whatever word you want) a person testifying before a congressional committee is mind boggling. That genie has been let out of the bottle and I don’t think it will ever be able to be contained in the future.

    The internet is also isolating. It doesn’t provide human interaction. People may feel as if they are getting social interaction with those on the internet but that’s not the case. When I was working on college campuses managing large student service programs, I would occasionally get emails from students shredding me up one side and down the other. I would never respond or engage via email but instead simply send a note asking the student to come in to my office (or I would meet them somewhere on campus) to have a conversation about their concern(s). Once we could have a conversation and see each other’s point, it always took a different route … one that was generally more positive and productive versus the antagonistic one-sided communication form of the internet. I learned quickly if I responded to their email it would just fuel the fight. It’s easy to tell someone via email what a horrible person they are. It’s not so easy face-to-face plus you more fully understand their concern and they had a better understanding of my point. At the end of the conversation we still might not agree but we better understood the differing points. There were times that I was able to change a policy or procedure based on the feedback from the student so it worked both ways.

    When I encounter something on the internet that appears odd, my first reaction is to look at the source. If it’s not familiar, I generally discount it. If it’s familiar, but still the information strikes me as odd, I will quickly do a search to see if other reliable outlets are reporting similar information or if it’s something on a “fact check” site like Snopes or another site. It’s pretty easy to verify the information … it’s not rocket science. Sadly, I think so few people do this … they just pass the fake news along to others and then it furthers explodes online. I have routinely asked friends to remove “fake news” stories off of their Facebook page so it doesn’t get “shared” by the next unwitting participant.

    Lastly, here’s my ultimate frustration with news outlets. Some apparent “fake” story is spreading around the internet and the news source, probably thinking they’re doing a good thing by debunking the story, shares the fake story and then provides some information to debunk it. It just provides legitimacy to the story. Sadly, the damage is done already when a reputable news source creates a headline about the fake information and then, about paragraph 15 in the news story, states that the information is not verified and is fake. The damage is done by just sharing the trash story. Most people will not take the time or energy to confirm the details or they just read to paragraph 14 and stop. It’s not beneficial and only feeds the conspiracy theorists on all sides.

    I don’t know the solution. Maybe this should be a class in our high schools (maybe it is and I don’t know it) … critical thinking, how social medial operates and how to verify information on social media. Just because you see something online doesn’t make it true. I’m usually operating on the opposite perspective … it’s not true until I can see other reputable sources supporting the information.

    Marta, thank you.

  • Kevin says:

    Okay … Now I’m really confused. You see the little icon by my name? It’s always been an “angry” appearing icon. Now I’m a smiling face. What’s the deal?

    • GWB says:

      I noticed that on another comment of yours, too. I would guess you used a different email address when you posted (the icon is tied to that, based on my experience).

  • Kevin says:

    Oh, there’s it back. I feel so much better.

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