We’ve been talking about ethics and professional standards in journalism because of its power to influence. We focused first on news reporting, and next, on news commentary (or opinion journalism).
On Aug. 17, I woke thinking about another news-related aspect of what I call “defense against the dark arts of persuasion,” that is, news timing. Sensational news, “big” news, can distract us while other harmful things quietly slide into place, unobserved. Those who time big news to distract us from other agendas aren’t always journalists, but sometimes, newsmakers.
On Aug. 17, the news for several days had been all about the demonstration in Charlottesville, VA by male, white, cis-gendered, heterosexual supremacists (sometimes called “neo-nazi” or “alt right”), and similar demonstrations planned for the near future. I found myself asking, ”Why now?” Who benefits from the timing of these demonstrations?
One possibility occurs from answering a different question: in the days after the Charlottesville event, how much attention did we pay to the issue of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign?
There’s a head of state who’d love for us to get our minds off the Russia issue. What if, like the knights who ridded King Henry II of that “turbulent priest” Thomas Becket, the neo-nazis tried to help their head of state by distracting everybody from the Russia question? If so, some would call it poetic justice that the head of state they tried to help, in his reactions to Charlottesville, has now alienated former supporters who weren’t bailing out on him over Russia.
But so much for what-ifs. Even if the timing of Charlottesville is unrelated to any other issue, I’m concerned that, with good-hearted people—quite properly—focused on standing up for love, equality and justice, we may lose sight of other goings-on. For example, the period for public comments on a controversial rule change being considered by the Federal Communications Commission ran out on Aug. 16. [For those who want details, I’ll put them in a separate comment below.]
Congress was still working on a budget bill. As is often the case, members of Congress try to tack on other provisions that have nothing to do with the budget. One of these is a provision to do away with the so-called “Johnson Amendment” which provides that religious organizations must refrain from endorsing particular political candidates, or else they lose their non-profit status. [For those who believe that churches should not endorse political candidates, I’ll put info on easy ways to make your voice heard in another comment below.]
It’s impossible to stay on top of all the news. Now that it’s part of my job to read up on matters involving influence and persuasive communication, I can afford to spend more time on news. But when I was younger, working 40+ hr/week in a high-key first career, running my own household, and maintaining relationships with a boyfriend, family and friends, I couldn’t spend nearly as much time following news. Most people are as busy now as I was back then.
Even when we have the time and inclination, “big” news makes it hard even to find coverage of other events. On September 15, 2001, a causeway here in Texas collapsed. Motorists drove over the gaping edge into the bay. There were many casualties, and an entire highway was rendered impassable for a long time. At another time, this would have made national, even international, news. At that time, however, few people even heard about it. The more horrendous terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon dominated the news.
On Aug. 17, in preparing to write this article, I went online to the front page of the Washington Post. Every headline related to Charlottesville, its aftermath or the fallout. I then Googled for the current status of the proposed repeal of the Johnson Amendment, but couldn’t find the answer.
But, while it isn’t easy, I would encourage everyone to try to keep a wide-angle lens on the news. When big events dominate the news, keep an eye out for less sensational, but harmful, things that might quietly slide into place.
Here’s how I, personally, make time for a wide-angle view. Perhaps you’ll find some of these ideas help you, too. Having decided what I can and will do to promote love, equality and justice, I don’t need to keep reading more and more details about Charlottesville. I don’t need to read all those Washington Post articles about the aftermath and the fallout. I don’t need to spend hours on Facebook reading every different way various people express their shock and sadness.
I not only don’t need to wallow in Charlottesville, it would be counterproductive to do so. It would thwart my practice of the law of attraction; I would be focusing on negative things I don’t want, such as hate and violence, rather than on positive things I do want, such as equality and justice. It would take up time that I can spend learning other things, writing for my blog, or helping clients have civilized conversations about disagreements.
And not wallowing in Charlottesville won’t reduce my determination to do what I can to counter the factors that led to Charlottesville. Not one iota. Just the opposite. The wide-angle view heartens me to keep on keeping on. And so, I hope, will you.
Here’s the comment about the FCC matter that I promised in the main article above.
The Federal Communications Commission has been considering doing away with “Title II” regulations. According to PBS, “The rules enforce the principle called net neutrality — that Internet service providers shouldn’t slow down or block any sites or apps, or otherwise decide what content gets to users faster… [FCC Chair] Pai has presented the net neutrality rules as the government becoming the regulator of the Internet. He has argued that the rules have put a ‘bureaucratic straitjacket’ on the telecom industry, slowing investments in the expansion of broadband access and innovation.
“Numerous Web companies, for their part, have argued that net neutrality rules are paramount to ensure that cable and telecom companies don’t become the gatekeepers of how Americans experience the Internet — what people can access at what speeds. The Internet Association, the trade group for Internet companies, says investments have not slowed.”
According to Open Media, an organization advocating for Internet neutrality, eliminating Title II would allow internet service providers to put those organizations that can afford to pay into internet “fast lanes,” while other sites, etc. would drop down into slow lanes.
Moreover, Open Media says that, during the period for public comments to the FCC, organizations in favor of the fast-lane system used Internet robot technology to flood the FCC site with comments favoring the fast-lane system, comments that were not made by real individuals. Open Media further alleges that, when they tried to get the FCC to investigate this situation and remove non-human comments, the FCC did not do so.
Meanwhile, the period for comments ran out on Aug. 16, that is, during the time when we were all so focused on Charlottesville.
If you favor keeping the Johnson Amendment in force, now would be a good time to phone or email your members of Congress. If you wish to phone (the most effective way to contact), call the Congress switchboard 202-224-3121, and simply follow the voice prompts to your Rep’s and Senator’s offices. If you wish to email, go to this House of Representatives site. Just enter your zip code, follow your nose to your rep’s web page, and click “contact me.” There is a similar site for the Senate.
Thanks, Margaret. I agree with you. We need to keep a wide angle and not get lost in the nitty-gritty of the latest controversy.
And thank you,Catherine. When I hear from readers that they find my writing helpful, it inspires me to keep on keeping on.
Loved this article Margaret. A wide angle lens is definitely beneficial during times you mention.
For me, I can cogitate on serious matters for a limited time, then I either have to write something pertinent, or give my head a break from that particular subject!
Your comment regarding the net neutrality was so very informative – thank you!
First, I’m sorry it has taken so long for me to get back to comments on my blog. Was dealing with computer issues, among which was not getting comment notices by email.
So, so glad you found it helpful. Hearing that I’m helping people is like a tonic for me.