By James Mack Adams
Hello. My name is James, and I am a newsaholic.
If you change the last word in the above sentence, you have the classic opening line for a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. There seems to be support groups for just about every sort of addiction these days. I wonder if there is some help out there for confessed news junkies. If so, sign me up. I am a prime candidate for rehab.
Perhaps there is a retreat where one can live for a time without exposure to newspapers, magazines, television, radio, telephones and the internet. Call it an attitude-adjustment timeout if you will. Perhaps an option would be to book some time at a remote monastery located on a secluded, barely-accessible mountain top in Tibet.
Granted, we all need to keep abreast of what is going on in our world. Excessive consumption of news, however, can be just as addictive as alcohol, tobacco, or opioids. In this modern information age of TV cable news, computers and smartphones, we are being constantly bombarded with “Breaking News.” It is easy to overdose, or at least become so addicted that we begin to lose our need for human interaction. Some media companies have all but admitted their goal is to addict their users. That’s scary. I read recently that some of the companies are now recognizing the problem and making moves to reverse the trend. That’s good.
Do any of you remember the days when we were anxious to get a chance to leave home or the office for a time just to get away from the phone? Now we take the phone with us. You can run, but you can’t hide. You will be found. Your phone will emit a tone to let you know there is either some “Breaking News” or a text that must be answered before you take the next bite of your BLT. You feel guilty if you don’t stop whatever you are doing and respond.
It is common for those with an addiction to place blame elsewhere. Perhaps my condition comes from my avocation as a freelance writer/journalist. I suppose if I want to blame a particular person, other than myself, for my addiction to the news, it could possibly be Ted Turner. Turner was the media mogul who founded Cable News Network (CNN), the first 24-hour news channel. Now there are more such around-the-clock news channels available to keep us either entertained, frightened, or downright angry.
Excessive news consumption might possibly be dangerous to your physical and emotional health. Perhaps such a warning should precede all news programs. At times, when a news story I am reading or hearing is especially disturbing, my body reacts. Pulse begins to throb. Heart begins to race. Blood pressure rises. Anger and frustration make me want to lash out. That is not good.
The disturbing story that initially caused this physical and emotional response is then sometimes followed by a lengthy analysis by a panel of contributors, or “experts,” who expound ad infinitum, sometimes even ad nauseum, on the story. If a story has “legs,” as they say in the news business, it can go on for days or even weeks. I guess you do what you have to do to fill 24 hours of air time seven days a week.
I often yearn for a return to the old days of Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, Eric Sevareid and other news people of their breed. They did occasionally offer commentary, when it was called for, but they mainly concentrated on presenting the news of the day, the who, the what, the when and the where. They had a limited amount of time to do so, usually less than 30 minutes after factoring in commercial time. There was little time remaining for lengthy analysis. That was usually left to the print media.
Those newsmen and women of the past were generally believed by their listeners. There was no such thing as fake news. Walter Cronkite, whom listeners sometimes referred to as Uncle Walter, was once called the most trusted man in America. When the Viet Nam War was going very badly, Cronkite’s reporting and commentary led President Lyndon Johnson to say to his advisors, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” Johnson later announced he would not seek a second term.
It is easy to see, and to understand, how we might get hooked and become newsaholics. The political scene today is like a soap opera or a reality show. We never know what the administration or members of Congress are going to say or do next. We are drawn to the TV screen like an insect to a light bulb to see what will happen in tomorrow’s episode. What will the two political parties be fighting about today? Who will be insulting whom? Who will be investigating whom? Who resigned or got fired? Is the federal government going to shut down? What is the latest scandal? How close are we to nuclear war?
So, sit back in your lounge chair. Turn on your favorite news channel. Get ready for the next anxiety attack.