Good News and Bad News

Posted: March 20th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: VOC Essays | No Comments »
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Over the years, people have often asked me about my favorite news outlets. I generally respond by pointing out that I do not have any favorite news outlet. The most important principle to remember in order to avoid being force-fed propaganda is that it is impossible to find a news network that is free of bias. When you understand this, you will never consume the news without being vigilant. Vigilance when consuming the news simply means that one cannot have a favorite outlet. With that said, there are some news outlets that are better than others. For this reason, there are some news outlets that I gravitate to more than others, as they simply do a good job delivering factual information.

Before discussing useful news outlets, it is critical to note that American cable news has turned into a colossal waste of time. Across the popular channels, all that is covered is Donald Trump and Russia. There is little to no coverage of serious issues occurring in the United States or across the world. It is lamentable that the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, for example, receives very little coverage on cable news, but every Trump scandal does. The explanation for this is simple: cable news is all about ratings. When ratings are a network’s primary objective, covering serious news understandably gets put on the back burner. Unless it is a person’s job to be completely invested in every single scandal that occurs in the White House, one’s time is better spent consuming news that will actually keep one informed about other issues facing the country and the world.

As a teenager and an immigrant to the United States, I felt that consuming cable news was the best way to acclimate myself to American culture. I also felt it was important to read opinion writers. However, knowing what I know now, a lot of that time would have been better spent reading philosophy, history, and theology. The news is important, but it is just one element needed to be an informed person. To be an interesting person with a developed mind, one has to read actual books. Consuming the news, reading opinion pieces, and listening to podcasts will never be able to replace the intellectual benefit that one gains from reading serious books.

News Networks Worth Watching

Al Jazeera English

Al Jazeera is an outstanding source of news. People with anti-Arab bias will point out that it is funded by the Qatari government, and therefore should not be trusted. This is nonsense. The network does a fantastic job of being balanced and inviting on experts to discuss issues. As stated earlier, no news network is without bias, but there are some that are better than others. Even when you can discern bias from Al Jazeera English moderators, top scholars are invariably invited to defend the other side.

The various news programs and documentaries that are produced by Al Jazeera English are of excellent quality. I regularly watch The Stream, and I also find Head to Head hosted by Mehdi Hasan to be the most engaging debate show on the Internet.

Check out this interesting episode of Head to Head with public intellectual and Zambian global economist Dambisa Moyo.

Al Jazeera English is generally a good use of your time.

RT

Again, people who refuse to give an outlet a chance because of the source of its funding will undoubtedly gasp that someone would have the effrontery to recommend programming funded by the Russian government. However, if you actually give RT a chance, the fact that it produces superior news programming and documentaries cannot be disputed. If you are someone who consumes the news with a healthy dose of skepticism, swallowing propaganda is difficult. Contrary to popular belief, you can watch Russian-funded news without turning into a Russian bot. Much like Al Jazeera English, RT does a very good job of inviting on experts to discuss important issues. This is unlike American cable news where the only qualification needed to be a pundit is to put on a suit and glasses.

Aside from the very good documentaries, one of the best RT programs is CrossTalk hosted by Peter Lavelle. Check out this recent CrossTalk episode on the recent college admissions scandal.

BBC

Lastly, the BBC is an excellent source of news. I grew up watching the BBC, and its programming is generally of a high quality. I enjoy Question Time, although I am disappointed that David Dimbleby is no longer hosting the show. Check out this episode with the new host Fiona Bruce.

Honorable mentions for BBC shows: The Big Questions, Free Speech and HARDtalk.

News Worth Reading

The New York Times

Although I found The New York Times’ coverage of the recent Nigerian “election” to be highly irritating and sophomoric, the paper is a great source of news coverage (except regarding the African continent).

I find the opinion columnists at the paper, however, to be consistently below average. It is astonishing that a newspaper of record like The New York Times cannot find opinion writers who are more engaging and eloquent than the writers that they currently employ. I have repeatedly said that the paper would be better served by firing all of its opinion columnists and simply having guest columns by scholars. When scholars write opinion columns, they are almost always interesting and brilliant. Perhaps the recent hiring of Michelle Alexander marks a step in the right direction for the paper.

The Wall Street Journal

When its articles can be viewed and are not behind a hard paywall, I read some news articles at the WSJ. Much like the NYT, sometimes, its opinion columns are poor.

About Opinion Pieces More Broadly…

As far as opinion pieces are concerned, it is better to read everything than to only read opinions that reflect your own biases. For this reason, I regularly read everything from “race realist” (read: white supremacist) opinion pieces to extreme communist pieces. I also try to read everything in the middle. The whole point of reading opinion pieces is to have a broad understanding of the wide variety of opinion that exists—not to simply seek out commentary that confirms one’s opinions. Often, people who have issues with reading alternative viewpoints tend be afraid that they may be converted, and they generally have not developed the skills to be able to formulate counterarguments to ideas with which they disagree. Reading commentary with which one disagrees sharpens one’s analytical skills. A major part of strong analysis is the ability to make fresh and interesting connections. Your ability to make connections will be severely limited if you only read a narrow band of opinions and ideas.

Society will be improved when people jettison the idea of having favorite news sources and start to acknowledge that vigilant news consumption is one’s responsibility as a citizen, and it requires having multiple sources of information in this hyper-ideological world. Having sentimental feelings about news sources is the first step to being primed for propaganda. Any of the news sources listed above can easily be dropped by me if their quality drops. As far as I am concerned, when it comes to news, there are no sentiments.