Rev. William Bills
February 21, 2017
With the passage of time I have become less and less a fan of the media. I remember the advent of cable TV. Back in the eighties, I thought that pay TV meant no more commercials. But television exists for advertisers. Public TV and public radio now sell time to advertisers. Ratings drive advertising. Anybody who uses the internet knows that information comes with a price. The first Iraq war demonstrated the profitability of CNN. Two men reported from Baghdad over the telephone while CNN ran the same footage non-stop over and over. The era of twenty-four hour breaking news was born.
Today everything is breaking news. Breaking news and anxiety go hand in hand. High levels of anxiety in society translate to advertising revenue for media outlets. No matter what the story, everybody has to take commercial breaks. Playing off our anxiety helps media outlets pay their bills. That doesn’t mean the media is bad. It just means media consumers have to be smart the same way any other consumer has to be smart. A free press is profitable when it keeps people engaged. High anxiety keeps people engaged. That doesn’t mean the media is the enemy. It does mean people have to use their heads. It takes work to discern truth.
I studied M. K. Gandhi in college. I watched documentaries and read about non-violent resistance. He wrote that Truth is god. (Not, God is truth.) His autobiography is entitled: “The Story of My Experiments with Truth.” For Gandhi, all of life was about discerning truth.
Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Later, as he stood before Pilate, Jesus was asked by the man with the power, “What is truth?” It isn’t clear if Pilate didn’t know what was true or if he just didn’t care. Maybe he thought he had the power to create his own truth. When an individual claims to possess all truth, something is amiss. Real leaders don’t blame others for their problems. The media isn’t perfect as an institution. Within the media there are people working for the truth. That makes some free and some afraid.