I saw the headline, “Secretary of State John Kerry visits Antarctica.”
Hmm, I thought to myself, good timing. Wouldn’t it be nice to escape post-election America for awhile and clear the senses in the vast, frigid, white nothingness of Antarctica?
Turns out that the visit to Antarctica was just a side trip for Kerry, who made a stop in New Zealand to lobby for a continued crusade to reduce global warming and to pledge to do “everything possible” to prevent President-elect Donald Trump from dismantling the Paris climate accords.
Apparently escaping from the results of this election is difficult. Not even a trip to the bottom of the world can provide any real solace.
I had been wondering when I would take another deep dive into the news again after the election. In the weeks leading up to the election, I had been unable to get enough news even after scrutinizing newspapers, magazines, online political sites, cable TV shows and various oracles, including Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, which ultimately called the election all wrong.
But in the immediate aftermath of the election, I went cold turkey. What was the point of being a political junkie anymore?
I read the recommendations of sages such as Garrison Keillor, who advised liberals to go bird watching or clean out the garage. The remedy, he suggested, was to tune out and try to replace your political obsessions with something more soothing.
Home-baked bread anyone? How about yoga or hand-knitted afghans?
I have nothing against hobbies, especially ones that slow down the cosmic treadmill for a while. But I’m not capable of total disengagement for any significant length of time.
Trying to track, comprehend and assess what’s going on in the world is both a habit and a duty. And whether you care about “politics” and all that encompasses, it affects you in a serious way.
So, I’ve dived back in again. I can’t help it.
What worries me, however, is the spiraling proliferation of fake news, fact-free, substance-free stories that multiply and spread like kudzu, eventually covering people’s brains and preventing any light from entering. With social media and other online sources, there is little to prevent the onslaught of lies, disseminated either innocently or maliciously.
Of course, I would think that. I work for a newspaper. We media elites are accused of thinking that news consumers need gatekeepers, reporters and such to sift through what is fact and what is fiction.
And the truth is, we do believe that. Hey, it’s a job.
Yes, the Web allows the distribution of stories by citizen reporters around the universe in nanoseconds without the ink-stained fingerprints of news snobs all over them. Real news can be broadcast unfiltered, free of the biases and prejudices of the professional news handlers, straight to the people.
But somebody has to sort fact from fantasy. If we’re going to be an informed nation, as we must be to keep America great, we need a steady diet of real news.
Who determines which news is real and which is fake, who confers the seal of approval to the news we consume, is still being sorted out in a world where information is coming at us from all directions. Maybe it will be the traditional news organizations; maybe it won’t. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, though, I am back to being a news junkie again. It can be painful, but it’s a good pain, one that makes you stronger.
What you find is that, whatever happens, the world is an interesting place. You can’t just look away.
James Werrell is opinion page editor for The Herald.