At the gym this morning, I was on the elliptical watching muted, close-captioned news (with that, like, ten second delay between moving lips and scrolling words that really only bothers me when I try and watch The View and Elisabeth Hasselbeck won’t shut up.) when I saw an ad that caught my eye. It was a commercial for CNN’s “America’s Choice 2012.”
AMERICA IT’S TIME TO CHOOSE flashed on screen in an attractive, flag-themed graphic, followed by a few YouTube-style talking heads, unmistakably homemade in that poorly-lit, too-close-up sort of way. Following these appeared CHOOSE YOUR ISSUES. Then, CHOOSE YOUR VOICE. This was followed by brief shots of Americans, existing, then more talking selfies, more Americans presumably utilizing their Chosen Voices to voice their Chosen Issues. THE ONLY SIDE WE CHOOSE, the ad concluded, IS YOURS.
I thought about this final assertion for a moment, and it struck me as nonsensical. How could CNN (of all entities) claim to choose everyone’s side? It stunk of that sort of lame agreeability of young relationships, the sort where you say, “I want to watch whatever you want to watch,” when really you’d sooner stare at the wall than watch another episode of Whitney. This line of thinking distracted me briefly, causing me to lose my elliptical footing so that I found my ellipses(?) ellipsing in sudden, awkward reverse.
After recovering, it occurred to me that THE ONLY SIDE WE CHOOSE IS YOURS is fairly representative of our approach to news—that is, we like to hear what we already think. Tucker Carlson gripes to his viewers about “Volvo-driving, NPR-besotted lefties” on Fox, while Rachel Maddow on MSNBC reports, you know, facts. (No, just kidding.) I choose to watch the Rachel Maddow Show, or CNN for that matter, not because I think the news I find there is unbiased and objective but rather because I know it isn’t. It’s skewed, but it’s skewed in a way I agree with.
CNN’s America’s Choice 2012, I later learned, is a part of CNN iReport, CNN.com’s user-generated news site, where anyone can post “news” stories related to any number of sub-categories on the iReport site. The Election 2012 section reads, “Election central. Share your views on the candidates and see what other people have to say, tell us what issues are most important to you in 2012, or just show us the coolest political signs in your town.” And here I thought there was no ‘i’ in ‘news.’
The very concept of iReport falls closely in step with the changing face of media. Writers, poets, musicians, and pundits have found new autonomy and accessibility in the Age of WordPress and YouTube, as established channels of information lose grip on their monopoly. In an era when “Double Rainbow” is as likely to meet the LCD of your flat screen as the State of the Union Address, what authority do newspapers, news networks, or news websites have as arbiters of fact and fiction, or of substance and fluff? These days even objectivity is subjective.
My fifteen-minute cardio cool-down came to an end, and after refilling my (effectively recycled) Evian water bottle, I grabbed my gym bag and staggered unsteadily to my Volvo, just a bit buzzed from one too many podcasts of All Things Considered.