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The Alternate States of America

| Opinion | April 26, 2018

We, in America, are living in alternate states of reality. They are neither red nor blue. They are states of consciousness and perception.

Like those drawn on a map, lines of division may be solid or dashed. Dashes, those lines with spaces between them, tend to be more fluid and porous, divides within a single body where people, commerce, and ideas flow readily and tend to be true. Solid lines demarcate more profound divisions. They’re often geographic – rivers, oceans; or topographic, like mountains, plains, and canyons. Some are made by people: Toll booths. Fences. Lines in the sand. Walls. These lines are often harder to navigate. They may be in place to deter outsiders, barriers against those who, in crossing, may bring with them differing, undesirable worldviews or experiences.

New boundaries have been erected over the last two decades. They are often numeric in nature; rising and falling with every stroke of a keyboard, button-push of a television remote, and swipe of a touchscreen. They open the gates of consciousness, while simultaneously shutting the door on reason. How we perceive our world is increasingly defined by the cable channels we view, the websites we surf, and to a lesser extent – sadly – the newspapers we read. For as long as the printing press has existed, journalists have expressed differing points-of-view. In their earliest incarnations, books and newspapers were put out by individuals who voiced their opinions in hopes of moving their readers to take a similar stance, even more than factually covering events. The “news” was an extension of those who had the means to publish.

Newspapers in this country historically followed this same pattern, in cities and towns, both large and small. People “took” papers that reflected their personal values and worldview. Multiple print news outlets existed, whose coverage and advertising targeted specific consumers. Many broadsheets appealed to traditional conservatives, some for more progressive audiences. Tabloids often spoke to the working class and, sometimes, the radical fringe. For the most part, reporters who wrote for these periodicals covered the same stories, fought for the same scoops, and spun their coverage based primarily upon those readers their owners and publishers hoped to influence. The papers were run by upstanding citizens, leaders of their communities. They wielded power but were not demagogues. Most sought to open readers’ eyes to new realities and societal changes. Few of them propagated lies and deception. If only this were true today.

Demagoguery does exist and it is motivated by both profit and perspective, no matter how distorted that prospect may be. Major media outlets whose leaders have included families with names like Murdoch, Sinclair, and Breitbart, open doors to those who, oftentimes, are not beyond expressing outright lies; at the same time, they accuse other mainstream outlets of purveying “fake news,” no matter how well-substantiated the facts may be. There lies (literally and figuratively) the rub. Brakes are rarely applied to the editorial content of many of these news outlets. It’s even worse online, where bloggers, creators of what are truly “fake news” sites, and some that are more legitimate, preach to choirs comprised of the angry and disaffected, giving voice to extremist positions. And let’s not forget those sites under the control of foreign intelligence services and other outside influencers whose sole intent is to foster discord among us.

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It would be disingenuous to avoid examining the voices of other cable networks, those whose ownership is associated with corporate logos more so than surnames, the usual suspects, like MSNBC and CNN, that are targeted by right-leaning ranters. Sorry to disillusion their critics, but what is seen interspersed with opinion on those channels is news; based on hard, well-documented facts. And when mistakes or errors in judgment occur (and they sometimes do), those responsible are subject to intense scrutiny, with public apologies, corrections, or retractions being made.

While many mainstream conservatives may cringe when extremist or ignorant sentiments are expressed by colleagues, by the president, or the channels and sites that serve as their platforms, they are loathe to publicly denounce them. The swamp may very well be deeper than any of us – liberal or conservative – might imagine.

Ongoing cries of “fake news” and the constant repetition of lies and half-truths only strengthen the borders and boundaries that divide us. Those on both sides oftentimes remain cloistered, living in separate states of reality to the detriment of us all. In the days before cable news and online websites run amok, a legendary journalist named Walter Cronkite ended his television broadcast each weekday evening with the phrase: “And that’s the way it is …” And we believed him. These days, many of us don’t really know who or what to believe.

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