I recently read the novelist Saul Bellow’s nonfiction To Jerusalem and Back (1976). Bellow’s personal take on Jerusalem and Israel half-a-century ago is quite interesting. But what most fascinated me was a comment on another matter.
Well before CNN, Fox and other cable news organizations, way before the internet, social media and podcasts, Bellow wrote, “We are informed about everything. We know nothing.”
Given seemingly unlimited information available at our fingertips, the choices we make about what to read, watch or listen strike me less as baffling than dangerous to American society.
Newspapers are dying. (My San Francisco Chronicle is a shell of its former self.) Yes, the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal reman in print while having established a robust presence online. But papers like the New York Post (owned by Rupert Murdoch) also hold sway, and New York is the nation’s largest metro area. Post readers, like other citizens, are entitled to vote.
Until he died last year, my brother-in-law Herb (z”l) daily sent me clippings from the Post’s sports section. He wanted me to be able to keep up with New York’s pro and college teams though I was long gone from the Big Apple. That I enjoyed digital access to this information didn’t faze him. I scanned the clippings because Herb so loved choosing and mailing them.
As to the the Post online, stories focus on “celebrities”—Britney Spears and lots of Kardashians—along with murders and scandals. Photos abound of flesh-exposed women.
Television—network and cable—offers some thoughtful news and analysis. That’s drowned out by fluff-oriented morning and chat programs, and numerous reality shows.
Then there’s the internet. Love far-right conspiracy theories? Alex Jones’ InfoWars offered millions of monthly eyes and ears his take on the 2012 school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut: a hoax. Last Monday, he filed for bankruptcy to hold off pending civil litigation.
“Q” and others pass on far-fetched plots their followers take as gospel. Many American “patriots” will tell you that Democrats engage in child pornography and trafficking. Proof? Please! True believers scoff at facts.
This fall’s midterm elections may give Republicans control of Congress. In part, this will result from dissatisfaction with the Biden administration. But conspiracy theorists loyal to Donald Trump will maintain that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. January 6? Fake news. (Seemed real as I watched CNN.)
Lack of objective information affects other nations. Russian president Vladimir Putin may well live in a bubble. Security and military advisors, staffers and friends, have reason to fear telling him that the war in Ukraine was ill-considered and is going poorly.
Times columnist Tom Friedman opined on April 3 that Putin “had no clue what world he was living in, no clue about the frailties of his own system, no clue how much the whole free, democratic world could and would join the fight against him in Ukraine, and no clue, most of all, about how many people would be watching.”
An old saying about software viability warned, “Garbage in, garbage out.” In our digital age, we can access thoughtful, accurate reporting and plus fact-based discussion and debate. Sadly, to paraphrase Bellow, we wallow in information yet remain ignorant.
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