When I read the news in the morning, I prefer to skip around. I check headlines and skim content, until I have a pretty good idea of the day’s events, and then I dive into articles that I think have the best handle for what’s going on. It’s like window shopping and circling the mall a few times before committing to a store and making a purchase.
Anyway, it’s March of 2010 and you may have heard about Congress trying to pass a Health Care Reform bill. The CBO finally released its financial analysis of the Senate-passed version of the bill on Thursday and here were the first two headlines that greeted me over a cup of coffee. I’ll leave the sources nameless but Alexa, a web analytics firm, currently has them both ranked inside the top 40 most popular websites in the United States:
“[Health Care] bill estimated to cost $940 billion dollars over 10 years”
“[Health Care] bill will reduce deficit by $130 billion dollars over 10 years, expand coverage to 32 million people”
Website traffic may be comparable, but their headlines are not. Are we even discussing the same bill? One is going to drain billions of dollars from federal coffers for a decade; the other is going to fill them with billions of dollars for a decade? I’m confused.
You probably realize that they’re both right; one is reporting on total cost, the other is reporting on bottom line. They’ve just chosen to lead with different pieces of information. That is journalism…I guess.
(Let’s say you were buying a house (congrats!) and I, as your analyst, concluded that you’d be able to 1) buy it for $500K and 2) sell it for $750K in a decade. When I broke the news, would you want me to lead with the $500K price tag or the $250K ROI? What if you were worth a lot of money already? Also, we’ll disregard the fact that my (and the CBO’s) analysis could be totally wrong. Accurately determining investment value has not been a strong suit in this part of the globe recently. But I digress.)
So do me a favor: Reread those headlines and tell me which one you’d click on. Don’t say it outloud. Keep it to yourself. But think about which one you’d dive into for the news.
Now ask yourself why.
It may be annoying, but just think about it.
Was it more or less the headline that lined up with your perceptions of this Health Care reform discussion? Me too. That’s what we do.
News should be, in one sense of the word, new information, right? If I dive into content that echoes what I already believe, I’m not gaining as much news, per se. I’m just reinforcing what I already believe. But that’s not reading the news; that’s just high-fiving preconceived notions and opinions.
Also, the thought of reading [network]’s [outrage adjective] slant probably makes us wince or works us up. We know the adversarial sources, and our jaws tighten when we think about having to stomach their garbage for even a minute. To answer why we’re here in the first place, I guess we can go down the path of Two America’s, Coasts vs The Heartland, Right vs Left, Conservatives vs Progressives, Boxers vs Briefs, Superman vs Batman and all the rest.
But what if it’s just a question of confidence in our own opinion? What if we know, somewhere, that we actually have NO idea what a piece of legislation, like this Health Care behemoth, means for the United States or the world. Perhaps, if we really had a couple cold ones and were honest, we’d admit that as passionate as we can get about social justice, fiscal responsibility, deficits, costs and inalienable human rights, in any issue, we really don’t know how Congress’s bill will translate to any of it or the long term ramifications. I mean…I sure haven’t read it.
The implications of any piece of legislation are so immense that we bind to a couple points and if anyone tries to knock us off, we back into a corner and then feel trapped. We know that we don’t know; and the subconscious awareness of our ignorance catalyzes our reactions. Maybe that’s why we gravitate towards the sources and headlines that feel familiar, not because we can’t stand “those [political insult]s at [network],” but because, if honest, we know we’re still unsure ourselves.