Why I rarely watch TV News

When I was in ICU, one of the [male] nurses enjoyed talking about politics. During April, when I was suffering ICU psychosis, and various side effects of the aortic surgery with multiple follow-up procedures, his talks filtered through my dreams and hallucinations. Ironically, I had him as an avid Obama supporter, when, after I “woke up,” I found out the opposite was true. My parents, when discussing my “profession,” focused on my blogging and freelance writing, while, when I was more able to communicate (by typing), I would explain that I *was* a blogger and freelance writer, but that I was also a retired-on-disability college English instructor, which impressed them just as much without giving them the impression that I was some famous journalist. 🙂
Anyway, before I was able to use a laptop and type messages to the nurses, but unable to speak due to a combination of a paralyzed vocal cord and a trachyostomy, they would often have conversations “with me” that basically amounted to using me as a sounding board or presuming my answers based upon what they knew of me from my parents and my wife (such as that I have a pro-life blog).
So one day, this particular nurse was talking about politics with another nurse, and he said, in a friendly manner, “What channel do you like to watch, John? Fox News?” I shook my head “no.” I forget if it was a day or two before I got the laptop, or I just wasn’t able to type at that particular juncture, but later that day, or a day or two after, I referred to that question and typed that I have a policy against watching TV news, even on EWTN, because it just raises my blood pressure: I prefer to read my news online where I can get multiple sources and respond to them. I’ll *read* _The Huffington Post_ or _The Guardian_ or whatever (except the NYT, which still charges for articles), but at least I can write responses in comboxes, on FB or on my blog, He said something like, “Fair enough.”
I would always teach my students that there’s no such thing as a completely “credible” source: credibility is a continuum, and no source is truly “unbiased.” Without naming names or denominations or issues, I would give the example of the time a prominent religious leader (Cardinal Mahony) was given an award for a particular political position (pro-life), and an activist crashed the banquet, passing out flyers listing the politicians on the other side (Democrats) he supported. The activist came to the mic and demanded an explanation of how he could support that position and support its opponents [having exemplified how I avoided “naming names,” I will now do so for clarity]. Mahony came up and took the microphone from the activist. All sources agree that the microphone made contact with the activist’s chin. The liberal Catholic publications like _Commonweal_ said he “accidentally bumped” the activist, while the conservative publications said that Mahony “hit” the activist with the microphone.
I made the decision not to watch TV news during the 2 weeks in the hospital after my aortic dissection in January 2011. The cable at Emory didn’t have EWTN (not surprisingly), and I laid there doing a lot of channel flipping. Everything was pretty much news or sports (which I don’t like, partly because of how angry people get over them) or “police procedurals.” Everything was upsetting. I would put on the news for a few minutes and see my blood pressure rise. Then I would put on some show like _Law & Order_ and see my blood pressure rising. I decided it wasn’t worth it. Television should be relaxing, not upsetting.

6 months before that, I read _Fahrenheit 451_. In the edition I had, there was an afterword in which Bradbury reflects on the text some decades later, explaining how he wrote it, discussing the accuracy of his predictions (which today have proven even more accurate), etc. He wrote the book originally in the 1940s, when television was still a new and relatively rare technology (equivalent to PC’s 40 years ago or smart phones 10 years ago). He said the danger of television, versus books (and, i would say, today’s Internet), is that it makes you sit there and take in what they’re saying, regardless of what they’re saying. He said you can “argue with” a book/magazine/newspaper–“throw it across the room,” take notes, write in the margins, write a letter to the editor/author, etc.–but television is a passive medium that just makes you sit there and either accept it or get angry.
6 months later, I realized how true that is. On another hospital visit related to my thoracic descending aneurysm, I was in an ER transition room with a TV and no remote, waiting for admission to the hospital for overnight observation. Someone had put the TV on A&E, and I was stuck watching _Criminal Minds_ or some such show. In one episode, a poor lady kidnap victim was depicted tied up, half-naked, crying and struggling for her life. That’s *just* what I wanted to watch while in the hospital for cardiovascular observation. So I turned away from the TV and did my best to pray a rosary, and I think I fell asleep. Next thing I knew, a different episode was on, so I thought I’d give it a chance. This time, a little boy was chasing another child through the woods with a baseball bat, and then beat him or her to death, right there on screen: again, just what I wanted to watch at that juncture, or *ever*. Why do people enjoy being so disturbed? I understand the appeal of a mystery show–it’s one of my favorite genres–and the thrill of seeing the criminals get their comeuppance, but why do we need to see the gory details?
Same is true of TV news. It’s all about getting people unnecessarily upset.

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