Where today can we turn not for opinion, but for actual facts and events, names, and dates—unburdened by emotion and vitriol…?
Over the past year, I—like, I’m sure, most Americans—have found the official news outlets to be more than untrustworthy. When I was in high school, I became a news junky. Being involved in debate and forensics, I found myself drawn to daily and weekly readings of the New York Times, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, The Christian Science Monitor, Utne Reader, Current, National Review, The Progressive, USA Today (a magazine), the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Reason, the New Republic… you name it, I most likely read it. Unusual for a fifteen-year-old, but true, nonetheless. Part of it was immensely selfish. I found most of my high school classes inane, and I would sneak magazines into my textbooks. Pretending to read the required book, I was actually reading the news magazine. I also watched a variety of news shows.
One thing I learned quickly was to tell the difference between news and opinion. I loved both, frankly, and I had a strange memory for names, dates, ideas, etc. Sometime in college, I lost my lust for the overload of information and became much more interested in timeless ideas rather than current events. Around 2001, I started getting back into the news, and I’ve tried to keep up at a reasonable level since then. After checking the daily essays on The Imaginative Conservative, I almost always read—depending on time, kids, etc.—the news from the BBC, the New York Times, USA Today (the newspaper, now), and Reuters. If I’m really enjoying a leisurely morning, I try to read through several London sites as well, such as the Telegraph, the Guardian, and the Independent. They each represent some political standpoint, but they often do a good job of hiding it, with the exception of The Telegraph. (The editor of that paper probably should avoid ever stepping foot on American soil—for many reasons, but mostly because he seems to think we Americans are of the devil and that he would be permanently contaminated by us.)
Over the past year, I’ve become so disillusioned by my traditional news sources as to become distraught. The BBC and Telegraph have become so hideously anti-American that I often think that they have wishfully forgotten the outcomes of our previous violent struggles with them, in 1775-1783 and 1812-1815. Where is Andrew Jackson when you need a good defense of the colonies? And, as I’m sure every reader of The Imaginative Conservative well knows, the New York Times has become nothing less than a second-rate college paper, with every title mirroring something to the effect of “How Donald Trump Created the Ultimate Evil in [insert person, place, date, event, planet, solar system].”
Indeed, the headlines of the New York Times are only slightly better than the clickbait that litters our poor internet: “Ten Tricks for a Healthy Political Life”; “This One Weird Trick Can Set You Free From Republicans”; “New Rules In Hillsdale That You Might Not Know but Could Save You from Trumpism”; “Trump Had No Idea the World Was Laughing At Him Until He Saw This One Wardrobe Malfunction.”
The less said about television news, the better. If you can tell the difference between news reporting and sports casting on Fox or CNN, you’re a better and smarter human than I.
Then, think about Facebook and other forms of social media. These might be the worst, for the news that’s retweeted, trolled, and vomited across social media is a mix of clickbait headlines, gut-wrenching reaction, and zero substance. It’s as if the world could not get any dumber. And, frankly, maybe it can’t. The good side of this is that it can only get better. The bad is that we live in a society of barbarism.
Still, the vital question lingers. Where today can we turn not for opinion, but for actual facts and events, names, and dates—unburdened by emotion and vitriol? As far as I know, no such site exists. We’ve been going on at least two decades now of opinion overload, opinion permeation of all aspects of social interaction, and nothing but the brazen raving of personal, subjective viewpoints.
With this in mind, should we really be surprised that 2016 was the most personally violent decade since 1968? The protestors of 2016 and 2017—in the so-called free world—seem as though they learned their moves from the Rodney King Riot Playbook: Find an innocent and destroy them or their property. And, not only destroy, but feel good about doing it.
I thank the Founders and the Good Lord for the Second Amendment, but its fruits provide a short-term solution, not a long-term one.
Even for the most stoic among us, it’s hard to keep our emotions in check and our facts straight. I am reminded of that brilliant Iowan and chronicler of Nazi Germany, William Shirer, a man possessed of immense talent and objective observation.
I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris, and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes concerning to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and mislead it. (Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, pp. 247-248)
Alexandyr Solzhenitsyn makes the same point about Soviet Russia. There existed, always, the Big Lie. Even if one avoided promoting it, he must never have actively disagreed with it.
That great master of imagination and the English language, Ray Bradbury, cautioned those of us who live in free societies never to become too smug about living in a society with a free press. Following the teachings of Alexis de Tocqueville, Bradbury knew well the dangers of democratic conformity. As such, if we Americans lose our ability to learn and discern from a free press, we are far more guilty of betraying the Good, the True, and the Beautiful than any poor soul who happened to live under the Soviets or Nazis.
As a serious conservative and libertarian, I can really only offer criticism (it’s what we’re best at) and not solutions. Still, I’ll offer three thoughts about all of this.
First, keep reading the best journals and sites of opinion. For more than six years, The Imaginative Conservative has successfully offered a healthy and steady diet not of sound bytes, but of thoughtful and diverse essays on all aspects of life—from the arts to law to culture to politics to religion to, especially, timeless philosophy. With Socrates, we love wisdom.
The Imaginative Conservative, however, does not provided an answer to the need for immediate and real information about the here and now, the moments of crises and decision.
Thus, second, we must each in good faith and with little rest continue to search the web high and low for a source of credible and immediate news. When one of us finds it, I beg you to share it with the rest of us. On this issue, as with many others, avoid selfishness at all costs.
Third, we must remember the high duty of every citizen of Western Civilization: That it ismuch better to listen to and speak with Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, and Cicero than it is with any current news personality or current politico.
Books by Bradley J. Birzer may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.