A steady diet of junk food is terrible for your body. So is a steady diet of trash media for your brain. I should know, I’ve consumed plenty of both.
I’ve spent much of life making bad meal choices. I have listened to the siren song of the drive-thru instead of what my body really needed. I’ve also spent a lot of time listening to Talk Radio. My intention was good. I wanted to better understand why so many people I love find talk shows like Rush Limbaugh’s and Sean Hannity’s appealing. I only listened to 3-5 hours a week for a period of 3-4 years, but it was enough of a steady diet of the stuff to see it for what it is: profiteering provocateurs bent on money and nearly void of authentic patriotism. The constant stream of anger was hard to take seriously, not to mention the twisted logic used to describe those on the left. Liberals on these shows are routinely portrayed as both diabolical in their disdain of American and buffoons incapable of rational thought. No wonder my friends and family acted so surprised by my politics. Anyone who consumed Talk Radio and even remotely believed it would no doubt be worried, if not apoplectic, about anyone who identified as a liberal. The shows do no original reporting; they just take news from the headlines and then proceed to rip apart anyone who doesn’t see the world from their lens. After a few years of this, week after week, I couldn’t stomach much more of it. I still tune in now and again to some Fox News contributors like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingram just to keep myself familiar with what so many of my fellow Americans watch. Every time I do, it leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. The sad reality is that many I know and love are malnourished by this media, and even poisoned by it.
Reflecting on my consumption of conservative media has also caused me to take a deeper look at what was once my own preferred diet of political munchies. The salty, satirical stew of late night nonsense like Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert. I never watched much of this, mostly just YouTube clips, but it was enough to cause me to not want a second helping. For sure, the satire of these lefty late nighters is very different from the anger on Talk Radio and Fox News, but in fairness it is no better for my intellectual or moral health. The constant barrage of insults, put downs and blatant ad hominem attacks directed towards those on the right leads to a cynicism and smug superiority. It also fosters an arrogance every bit as harmful as the animus from the right. It creates and enforces the narrative that it is us versus them. Liberals are the smart ones conservatives are the dumb ones. It often reduces the deeply held personal convictions of others to no more than a punch line, creating the idea that all the world fits into one of two categories: the woke or the wing-nut. This menu of sanctimonious, satirical sludge not only fails to satisfy, it leaves me feeling sick.
So, I’m no longer regularly consuming the toxic media from the right or the left. Instead, I’m trying to have a more balanced diet with less opinion pieces and more thoughtful, informative perspectives, with programs like the PBS Newshour and other quality media outlets. It’s up to all of us to decide what we will consume and how to make the best media choices possible.