I stopped watching the news
John O’Leary interviews Peter Montoya about his new book and asks about his notion that politics has become our new religion. Then they talk about the recent history of broadcast media and the capitalist reasoning that shaped media as we know it today.
So as I went through your book, I just was taking notes on the side, and one of the things is that politics has become the new religion. Why has politics of all things become our new religion?
Well, we do have these ancient kind of Greek archetypes in our brains. So we are always kind of looking for kind of these gods or these generals who kind of lead the good versus evil side. We oftentimes have the seers, which are oftentimes the talking heads, which help us know what’s going to be happening in the future.
Then we have the pastors, which are the news anchors, helping us distill the morality of what’s actually happening, how we’re doing good things, and they’re doing bad things. And then you have the foot soldiers, which are oftentimes congressmen or people in the media who are actually either, you know, throwing lethal blows against the other side or taking
them and being taken out of battle. And that’s happening every single day in the news. So for the last 18 months during the pandemic, we really haven’t had any of the usual national events that kind of unite us.
So we used to have Super Bowls and we would talk about that a minute, we go to Super Bowl parties, we’d have World Series. We’d have the NBA championships. We’d have the Oscars. We’d have these large national stories. And then we go to parties or go to work.
And we would talk about those things. We even used to have Saturday Night Live and the late night talk shows. But those all went largely to the left. So it was no longer a rallying conversation anymore. And so what are we left with?
We’re left getting pumped full of news. And news now is absolutely everywhere. It is obviously on your phone, on your TV, Internet, a gas station pumps, elevators and everything. It has become politicized. So you can look at religion as being a spiritual practice.
But the other way of defining a religion, it’s a way of life. So for some people, skateboarding is our way of life. So those people, it is their work is their way of life. And for a lot of people, politics has become their way of life.
It is what all they think about is all they obsess over. And also, church attendance dropped by 20 percent or so during the pandemic. And so all we’re being left with is this kind of mythical battle that’s being played out in real time.
In the news where we get to root for our size is winning. And the other side is being evil and losing.
I’ve heard you referred to that almost like wrestling when you used to watch Sunday morning wrestling. And you’d have the good guys versus the bad guys and the commentators. And they were characters and we knew it was fake, or at least most of our listeners know it was fake.
But right now, we’re not as convinced that indeed it is fake and that we are actually part of the show. And so I’d like to go through the other things identified. You talked about 1980 being a turning point.
It was the launch of that first ever 24 hour news channel. How did that movement… Because back then we were like, how are they going to talk about the weather 24 hours a day or what’s taking place around the world 24 hours a day?
Give me a break. And yet they have. And now it’s everywhere. So how did 1980 change the way we received media? Yeah.
Ted Turner found a loophole in the FCC policy which allowed him to point a satellite to space and start beaming news 24 hours a day around the planet. And that’s what everyone kind of thought. You know, what could they possibly talking about?
So they built these very, very large nationwide networks that basically are very, very expensive to run. And they were really made for large global news stories, things like 9/11 and the Iraq war. But even when those large stories aren’t happening, they still have to feed the beast.
They still had to pay all their people. They had to pay for buildings and all the satellites. So what is the cheapest and easiest thing for them to do is to get two people on television, two talking heads, yelling at one another about how they perceive what is happening or what will happen.
So what cable news discovered is they have a very, very expensive infrastructure. And the best way, the cheapest way to keep people glued on it is to get people arguing. Talking heads arguing.
I would imagine many of our listeners right now are thinking, as I look at my mom and dad, there are some of my greatest champions right now in the live inspired podcast. Yeah, but they’re telling us what’s going on, Peter.
They’re reporting the news like this is not a bad thing to be informed of what’s taking place in the world. How would you respond to them?
As it turns out, the more news you consume, the more misinformed you actually are. So there’s a great quote that goes like this. It’s better to be ignorant than to be misinformed. It’s easier to fool somebody then to convince them they have been fooled.
So the more news you consume, the more calcified you become in your positions and the more likely it is that you have misinformation rolling round your heads. I stopped watching news about seven months ago. In January, when I was writing this book, and I still know what’s going on.
I get the broad strokes because people tell me, but I don’t need to know every last thing that some senator said and that I came back with this and this legislation, that those little micro battles really don’t matter nearly as much as we think they do.
Tell me about when did we shift from what most of us would consider fairly news based reporting, whether it’s Tom Brokaw, our Cronkite, or one of the names that many of our viewers and listeners would remember to primarily opinion based reporting?
Yeah, it’s a really good question. So what happened in the 1990s as more and more cable news channels came online and also with the rise of the Internet, is people realized they get their news for free. And as they start to get their news for free, the major newspapers and magazines and even cable news channels came back to us and said, hey, are you willing to pay for well edited, objective news. And we, as public said, no, we’re too cheap. We don’t want to pay for it anymore. And with that began the rise of really trying to sensationalize news to get more attention and get more eyeballs on your news so you could sell more advertising. So it was the mid 90s, and we like to point our fingers over at the major cable channels and the Internet. But the truth is, we really get to blame ourselves. We were unwilling to pay for news anymore.
If you were more committed to national unity than partisanship, please check out my book, The Second Civil War: A Citizen’s Guide to Healing Our Fractured Nation. My book will challenge you to improve your relationships with friends and family.
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