THE BLOG
05/29/2014 02:46 pm ET | Updated Jul 29, 2014

TV News & Upworthy Are Transforming Us All Into Dumb, Ill-Informed, Simple-Minded Sheep

For the first time in my life, I can confidently say that most news is not making us smarter -- it is making us dumber.

That statement does not include places like this site, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. But it does include cable news and inane, Upworthy-like websites -- the sort of stuff, in other words, that we see every time we log onto Facebook. Let me explain:

TV News as well as Upworthy and its social media-driven ilk thrive off outrage. Although the politics they espouse vary, to garner views they all need to outrage someone. In America's excessively partisan environment, this often means a hyperactive focus on the religious "culture wars," verbal racism, and horse-race politics. If sex is involved (see: the Donald Sterling story), that's an added bonus. The only time these modern "news" outlets shift gear is when a disaster like the Elliot Rodger shootings or the Malaysian Airlines crash strikes. That's the evolving state of modern journalism, folks: race, sex, religion, superficial political analysis, and disaster stories, all slathered in a veneer of outrage.

Notice what's missing: Regular coverage of federal legislation, scientific developments, substantive corruption pieces, real debates that go beyond name-calling, stories on foreign wars (we are still in Afghanistan, right?), structural racial and gender disparities... the list goes on and on.

The media is no longer a watchdog; it is a lapdog.

To make things worse, the most visible stories -- those shared on social media -- predominantly include the former content, not the latter, as they come from diminutive sites like Upworthy. (The problem with these websites is not only what stories they choose to cover, but rather how they cover them, as no matter the topic, the issues are invariably watered down into neat, pre-packaged clickbait that conveys nothing of substance aside from a general feeling of outrage.)

Now, I'm not saying that outrage has no place, or that the topics cited above are not important. It does, and they are. People should be outraged -- obviously -- about intolerant religious rhetoric, racism, gender disparities, corrupt horse-race politics, and life-threatening disasters. But they should be outraged in a manner that, unlike Upworthy or Fox, respects their complexity and does not dilute the issues (for an example of an excellent piece on racial reparations, click this link). And they should also be outraged about the obscene amount of incarcerated African-Americans, the executive branch's shredding of the Fourth Amendment, experimental and probably unconstitutional executions, the growing influence of lobbyists in D.C., several inexplicable Supreme Court decisions, the military-industrial complex, and so on.

Alas, because some subjects can be presented in a simple manner while simultaneously provoking indignation or sex drives (or both) and thus garnering views, the media focuses on the same tired slew of watered-down topics. Let's change this by skipping the "Miley Cyrus said 'X' -- watch what happened next!" "news" stories and instead tuning in to (and thus rewarding journalists for) substantive pieces that actually deserve the "news" label.

Who knows -- maybe we'll learn something.