The curiosity of my coworkers at ThoughtWorks often leads to a number of healthy and interesting debates, which often occur in the pub, on internal mailing lists, and anywhere in-between. One such discussion, of the mailing list variety, revolved around the topic Chinese economics and politics. Inevitably, the recent Angry Red Dragon issue of The Economist was mentioned in passing as participants shuffled over the topic of general Western opinions on China.
Most people I know were furious when they saw the Angry Red Dragon. I was elated. For years, I’ve taken to ribbing any of my friends who read The Economist; although the writing is entertaining, the topics various, and the grammar impeccable, I still find it offensive that such a magazine sells itself as “news” for the same I reason CNN disgusts me. It’s not news. It’s entertainment. It’s a comic book.
Fox News has been getting it right for years now. Kurt Vonnegut’s obituary-thing is the perfect example — no one at Fox is pretending they’re running a news channel. It’s a cartoon and that in itself is not entirely disagreeable. No one I know would take such material at face value.
Other sources of information, though, seem to slip through this filter simply because their content is well-delivered and free of lunacy. Why is this the case? Even if we find a media outlet without opinion or agenda, what on earth makes us think they could possibly collect all the facts or perform a complete analysis?
Although we all ask ourselves that exact question and respond with “of course that’s silly! I always question everything I’m told,” sometimes it’s not so obvious. As human beings, we’re remarkably fallible. I’ve read Economist articles in the past and forgotten, mid-stream, that the material I’m consuming is For Entertainment Purposes Only. It’s an easy rule to forget — we all do it — and there’s nothing quite like thinly-veiled racism (or other abhorrent messaging) to remind us that media we consume is largely trash.
Essay originally published on Hungry, Horny, Sleepy, Curious. (2008).