Farhad Manjoo’s Guide to the End of the World.

by Drew R. Hamilton

The world has been ending since the beginning of time.

We’ve all seen the proverbial street person donning a sandwich board, prophesying the on-coming apocalypse.   We’ve all shuffled by them, uncomfortably, avoiding eye contact at all costs.  Well now that guy has facebook., writes a highly followed blog and just quit the number-one comedy sitcom on American television to go on a cocaine-fueled nationwide stand-up comedy tour.

We use to be able to avoid these people.  You had to go out of your way to subscribe to their self-serving rhetoric.  But now, in our ever-connected world, we find ourselves at the mercy of these social media sycophants.

I remember the first time the world was ending.  It happened in the spring of 1989.  I had just turned seven.  My father, the son of an Eastern Airlines mechanic, left his job as a pilot for Eastern.  Frank Lorenzo, CEO of Eastern Airlines, had requested that Eastern’s workers take deep cuts from their pay and benefits.  The three separate unions representing the pilots, flight attendants and mechanics decided to strike.

My father left Eastern Airlines, leaving 20 years of seniority behind, to start over again with Piedmont Airlines.  He was one of the few to do so.  Friends of his called him crazy.  There was plenty of misinformation making its way through Eastern’s work force.  Newsletters spreading falsely inflated expectations throughout the company, while the labor talks played out in the headlines of the morning paper.  Who to believe?

The union members got more than they bargained for when the airline declared bankruptcy.

At the time, our family had moved into a new house in Ocala, Florida, but we still owned a 50-acre horse farm that we had yet to sell.  It looked like our world was in danger.  It was an important lesson in how belief can determine your future.

Since that event there has been Y2K, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in South East Asia, the real estate market crash of 2008, the recent earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan and the impending 2012 Mayan end-of-the-world prophecy.  The world has been ending for a long time.

One thing in our world really has ended: the way our society develops what we believe.

Farhad Manjoo’s True Enough, Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, takes an in-depth look at the splintering of modern society.  What information we choose to believe.

Manjoo sets out to explain why America is “splitting into niches,” by examining how “humans process information in the face of many choices; how we interpret documentary proof in a world now glutted with videos, photos, and audio recordings; how we decide whom to believe in an era in which “experts” of unknown quality dominate every news discussion; and how news media outlets react to all these changes, how they’re driven to pander to our preconceived ideas about society.”

Selective Exposure – the social phenomenon that explains how people, with the help of the connectivity afforded by the Internet and technology, choose to gravitate toward other individuals who “are close to [them] ideologically, psychically, emotionally, aesthetically.”

Our media diet has never been so malleable.  We can DVR what shows interest us, read niche blogs and listen to one of an infinite number of podcasts that all cater to a very specific target audience.  We encapsulate ourselves in our own self-designed media bubble.

During the recent budget crisis, there has been an overwhelming amount of misinformation flooding the avenues of mass meda.  In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has declared war on labor unions despite their agreement to requests for budget cuts.  Media is being used to manipulate many who subscribe to the right-wing media against unions, funding for NPR and PBS, and social programs like Planned Parenthood.

Recently, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl stood on the Senate floor and described abortion as “…90% of what Planned Parenthood does.”

However, 2009 Pulitzer Prize winning Politifact.org found Kyl’s statements to be grossly false, finding that abortion only accounted for roughly three percent of Planned Parenthood’s services.

How could the Senator be so wrong?  More importantly, how will we, the people, decide if Kyl is wrong or not?

Selective exposure will have the greatest effect on what we decide to believe.

If we tend to be left-leaning, we may watch networks like MSNBC who’s Rachel Maddow covered the Senator’s remarks with a guest appearance by political satirist Bill Maher.  Maher characterizes the right as being in a “Fox News bubble” at the four-minute mark.

The Daily Show, another left-leaning show, covered the fallout from Senator Kyl’s remarks here.  The Daily Show and Colbert Report are responsible for notorious response from Senator Kyl’s communications director that his remarks were “not intended to be a factual statement.”

Yet, Greta Van Susteren on Fox News, a right-leaning network, speaks with the Senator for 7 minutes without asking him to qualify his statements on Planned Parenthood, even when they discuss the subject.

But what about the real niche audience?  Here is an article from LifeNews.com, a pro-life news website, that actually makes sense of Kyl’s remarks.  Perhaps they should draft his next Senate speech?  Steven Ertelt of LifeNews.com claims, “But Planned parenthood’s own figures show Kyl was right in the sense that Planned parenthood is primarily an abortion business and, for pregnant women, abortion is the only option they essentially present.”

Further down this rabbit hole, googling the name Steven Ertelt leads to accusations of false reporting.

So who do we believe when the world is ending?  When everything is on the line?

Manjoo may leave many readers frustrated and overwhelmed with that question.  Our ability to decipher the truth in mass media may be shaken by the realizations he puts forth.  However, one practical lesson we can take from Manjoo, is to be aware of our own selective exposure and frame our “deeply held beliefs”  in the context that we ultimately seek out evidence that supports our own truths, so that we may become more understanding of opposing viewpoints and those who hold them so dear.

Published in: on April 15, 2011 at 3:34 am  Comments (18)  

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18 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “be aware of our own selective exposure and frame our “deeply held beliefs” in the context that we ultimately seek out evidence that supports our own truths, so that we may become more understanding of opposing viewpoints and those who hold them so dear.”

    I totally agree with you. great blog.

  2. Hehe. Subtle opening reference. I liked the personal example, and you kept me reading in head-bobbing agreement. Effective close. I definitely think we’re walking away from this book with frustration, skepticism and uncertainty. I guess it’s up to us — the futuer of journalism — to do something about it.

  3. I liked how you brought yourself into the situation and related it back to you and your family. I also like how you incorporated the end of the world. Your rhetoric is right on point, makes readers want more! Good Job:]

  4. I spelled future wrong. For the win.

  5. Your blog was current, personal, and full of believe it or not FACTUAl information lol (just had to throw that in there). I really liked how you described the key term of selective exposure..I think that’s something we all took away from the book if nothing else. Great Blog!

  6. First of all, I really like your opening. Made me laugh. I also thought the Kyl thing was crazy and like I said, he needs new PR people. The reply they gave out to try to cover his butt was worse. Good blog Drew!

  7. The title got me hooked right away. You know how to get the audience hooked right away. You made me depressed though, all this talk about the world ending and Armageddon. Where’s the optimism?

    I’m just kidding around, great post.

  8. I really enjoyed this post. I like the way you started off with a personal story and tied it in with Manjoo, but then took it to Kyl’s “not meant to be a factual” statement.

    Further, the website that made sense of his words should “draft his next senate speech”; Great point! More evidence of Manjoo’s Dr. Fox reference, “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

  9. I enjoyed reading your blog. I liked how you related the post back to you and your family. The belief that we live in our own designed media bubble is also very true. Great post!

  10. Your blog was great. I really liked reading it. You kind of take the same writing style as me. You personalize your statements.

  11. “I remember the first time the world was ending.” I like how you talked about and mentioned about your father and the events that happened after. Deep incite on a lot of aspects. Good work.

  12. I loved your example of selective exposure. You have a great writing style and you moved on from example to example smoothly. There is all this yapping about how the world is going to end and sure, it does look like everything has crumbled to where it is almost impossible to fall anymore. Great work!

  13. Starting out with a personal story was a great choice, as well as your correlation between niches and selective exposure. “Winning!”

  14. This was so interesting. You did a great job researching and developing a strong idea and in return created an excellent blog. Good job!

  15. GRrrreeat blog! I enjoyed reading it in entirety, you might just have a knack at this! Blog was flooded with quality examples that I knew and could logically reference and the personal example brought it home. Nice job!

  16. I completely agree with your reference to social media. I love how you started off the post. At first I was like where is this person going with this statement? You did a great job in joining your idea with the text.

  17. Are you talking about that homeless guy featured on the Today show?
    If so, great example of the media putting something on television and society eating it up.

  18. I love how you use your own story to put things in perspective for your readers. Good job.

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