Time to turn off the news?

Feb 15, 2016 by

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

One of my favorite morning rituals is sitting down with breakfast and opening up the newspaper. I understand there aren’t many in my generation that still read the news in print, but for me it’s a comforting ritual. Or, at least, it used to be.

For years, I’ve had a rocky relationship with the news. I love to know what’s going on in the world, but I can’t help but notice that the news sources I read all present the story from a definite slant. More and more over the past couple years, I’ve felt like I’m doing battle with the newspaper every morning. Each day, the media machine is telling me whom I should vote for, what to buy, what new disease to fear and whom my country should kill.

The further I go in my journey of discipleship to Jesus, the more I realize that I am in a battle — an ideological or spiritual warfare — with the media I consume. Especially at this time in American politics, as we head into what may be the most contentious and vitriolic election in a generation, I’m wondering to what extent I should be engaging with the news at all.

Here’s one decision I’ve come to for myself: I’m not going to spend any more time consuming media that makes me feel powerless, furious or inadequate. For me, that has meant making the choice to avoid the paper’s A section and go straight for local news. I’m not saying there isn’t propaganda and distortion on the local level; on the contrary, local DC politics is a bit of a mess! Yet it’s a mess that I have a real stake in. I have a voice, however small, in the life of my city. I can take concrete action to drive tangible change.

The choice to shift my gaze locally has been a powerful one for me. I’m still frequently discouraged by the news I read, but I rarely experience the radical alienation that has become so normal when I focus on national and international affairs. I can choose to be an actor rather than a spectator. Reading my local news serves as a preparation for engagement, rather than a temptation to despair.

I think temptation is the right word. Especially now that we are entering into the thick of the American presidential campaign season, I am increasingly convinced that the mainstream media narratives are toxic — damaging to body, mind and spirit. I’m through ingesting toxins and calling it “entertainment.” I refuse to allow myself to be distracted from the joy and challenge of real life, in favor of the three-ring circus that American politics has become.

It’s time to take control of the media I consume. If that means throwing away the A section of the newspaper without reading it, I will. If it means shutting off social media until Nov. 9, then I’ll learn to live without it. Because I can’t let the seed of life get choked out by the weeds. God put me on this earth for a purpose, and it wasn’t for live-tweeting the Republican debates.

How about you? What’s your relationship like with the news these days? Is there a healthy balance you’re able to strike? What does simplicity and faithfulness look like when it comes to what we put into our minds?

Micah Bales is a writer, teacher, and grassroots Christian leader based in Washington, D.C. He is a founding member of Friends of Jesus, a new Quaker community, and has been an organizer with the Occupy movement. You can read more of his work at www.micahbales.com or follow him on Twitter.


Comments Policy

Mennonite World Review invites readers’ comments on articles. To promote constructive dialogue, editors select the comments that appear, just as we do with letters to the editor in print. These decisions are final. Writers must sign their first and last names; anonymous comments are not accepted. Comments do not appear until approved and are posted during business hours. Comments may be reproduced in print, and may be edited if selected for print.

  • Berry Friesen

    I like Bales’ skepticism about the content of Section A and I applaud his refusal to get caught up in the kabuki dance of national election campaigns.

    When the subject is international events, however, the problem of media-driven propaganda cannot be dealt with by avoiding Section A. Almost all international reporting is an extended morality tale crafted to make the empire look righteous and thus legitimate. Even if you never read Section A, the narrative arc of that morality tale will take residence in our souls.

    The story of evil Da’esh (AKA the Islamic State) and its righteous opponents in the West is such a morality tale. Ignoring it will not work; its reach into our culture is too pervasive and the revulsion it triggers too visceral.

    The only way to exorcise the power of this morality tale is to learn MORE about it: how Da’esh is being fed and equipped by the empire’s allies (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, even Israel) and how the US-led empire regards it as an important ally in doing its criminal activities, such as destroying governments (Libya, Syria, Iraq) that refuse to fall in line with imperial plans.

    Currently, Turkey is attacking Syria and the Kurdish forces in northern provinces of Syria in an effort to keep open its border with Syria so that supplies and fighters for Da’esh and al-Qaeda can continue to flow into Syria. Turkey does this with US support.

    Of course, as Bales points out, this information will never be reported in Section A. But neither will we learn about it by ignoring Section A. We must dig for it in the alternative media.