Overcoming becoming my worst enemy
Looking back the past year, I realized much of my pieces for The Daily Targum were about bashing the American news media. In particular, I complained about the incredibly generous amount of airtime given in broadcast and cable news to opinions and the pundits who obsess with fake controversy and their own insights. I also complained about how it seems like everyone in the media who has a critical opinion about media's perceived biases and unethical conduct always mentally separate themselves from the medium they work in.
The inherent hypocrisy is clear. This newspaper that you a reading is a medium too, and in the short year I wrote an opinion every other week, I saw myself turning into the very thing I wish to be destroyed. In person, I have complained about how the news media tells people how to think too much, rather than the facts and context. I am guilty of that too. There is a reason why I chose to write opinions in the Targum rather than news stories. It is the simple fact that preaching and complaining are much easier than actual journalism.
Unfortunately in the business of cable news, shows featuring personalities known more for their opinions rate higher than shows that supposedly do the regular reporting. The top MSNBC shows are "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" and "The Rachel Maddow Show." The top Fox News shows are "The O'Reilly Factor," "Hannity," and "The Glenn Beck Program." CNN has personalities that make their opinions well known, even in their non-punditry shows like "Lou Dobbs Tonight." The reality is that viewers who watch cable news ultimately do not want to be informed. Viewers want preachers who want to substantiate the audience's existing biases, and worse, prejudices. While I have personally avoided cable news like a sexually transmitted disease, I find myself still guilty of valuing opinions over "real" news. After glancing at the cover stories of papers like The New York Times or the Targum, I find myself jumping into the editorial section rather quickly.
While my audience at most is a few dozen readers who do not simply glance over words in this opinion section, I am afraid that I have, at times, subconsciously yet intentionally maintained some tone in order to shape people's opinions while not being entirely disagreeable. In other words, I am guilty of self-censorship not because of some personal intellectual struggle. Instead, I find myself not making a statement out of some trivial fear of disapproval of the readership.
With the regular piece every other week, I am obliged to have an opinion, even when I do not offer a unique perspective or a passionate thought. This is not too dissimilar to pundits who appear on television everyday complaining about how the liberals/teabaggers/immigrants/socialists/Democrats/Republicans are destroying the country. Except, the people on television do it daily.
By the mere fact my words are published, it has subtly increased my ego. I have caught myself at times overly assured of my own correctness. I have written on subjects I have known very little. If I had to manufacture an opinion more often, eventually I would have ceased to become the silent observer that I wished I was and ultimately become the smug pundit with a power complex. Once again, I know these words have no profound effect on those very few people who read them, but it is not going to stop me from pretending.
This must be the story about how everybody who is aware of how the media poorly functions becomes a member of the dysfunctional media, on a bigger and larger scale. I have often rationalized about the difference between print and television. In print, readers can selectively choose between news and opinion. If they choose the latter, at least they know they are consuming snake oil. In television, particularly cable news, a viewer can tune in for news and information, but instead get images of personalities feigning outrage and oppression.
Yet, it is no excuse for whatever I am doing. I stand by most of what I have written, and I thank those who have read who agreed or disagreed. I hope the little good I did was merely introducing or reminding people of a certain perspective they have not thought about. I hope the information that people have sought and reproduced within the opinions of the Targum is not the only information you will eventually receive about the subject manner. But it would once again be dishonest to suddenly adopt an "above-it-all" instruction to people, when it is much more satisfying to get people to agree with me. Also, notice the number of times I used the words "me", "myself" and "I."
The school year is almost over and graduation will give me an excuse to stop writing why people should think the way I do. Good riddance.
Roger Sheng is a Rutgers College senior majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. His column, "The Echo Chamber," runs on alternate Mondays.