I have recently become a major fan of the long-time NBC hit “Saturday Night Live” (SNL), an hour and a half-long comedy show that consists of a variety of hilarious skits that parody events or cultural norms in real life, ranging from shots at absurd commercials for ridiculous products to impressions of pop culture and historical icons, including an unavoidable Alec Baldwin impression of a certain American president.
But during one of my occasional mindless binges of SNL, however, I discovered a skit from 2010 that truly, while predictably hilarious, struck a chord deep within me as to why I, like so many Americans, find the modern news industry so hard to trust.
As she anchors the fictional WXPD Channel 9 News, Wanda Ramirez, portrayed by Nasim Pedrad, sets the record straight by stating from the get-go that the night’s top story is “a story designed to frighten parents.” Specifically, it’s a story about “souping,” an over-the-top teenage fad in which, according to reporter Peter DiSantos, portrayed by Bill Hader, teenagers are “drinking expired soup cans to get high.”
As flimsy as it sounds from the start, it only gets worse from there: DiSantos goes on to explain that “parents are powerless,” to stop the trend, and that one of the biggest hurdles to ending the fad is that soup “is legal.” Despite the insistence of a student, played by actress Emma Stone, that the fad is complete nonsense and that “there’s no way students are doing that,” because “it wouldn’t get you high,” DiSantos refutes her – and ignores her for that matter – immediately by interviewing a paranoid mother in the middle of the night and telling her about the fad, leading her to absurdly order her husband to “flush all the Progresso,” to keep their kids safe, adding a false sense of sureness to the otherwise outrageous report. To top it all off, anchor Ramirez adds to the insanity by telling her viewers to “go to our website and no others.”
The skit repeats itself and becomes even more absurd, but I will not spoil the ending. But in those 90 seconds lies the biggest question in 21st century news: who can we trust?
Comedy aside, America, in terms of its news industry, is facing a dire fork in the road with three major choices: continue to believe the mainstream media as we always have despite the incessant coverage of Trump and his daily agenda and of other questionable motives; abandon the mainstream and embrace alternative sources, again with questionable motives, that are seemingly free from the greedy corporations and liberal focus-groups; or abandon the news altogether, once again with questionable motives.
While the last option would undoubtedly have a positive effect on personal sanity, it would also undoubtedly leave the public at large in the dark, unaware of what is happening beyond their own front doors, and vulnerable to negative and dangerous influences from less-than-trustworthy sources and individuals.
Although we would like to believe that there is one truth and only one truth, the real truth is that there is no one truth, but a collection of conflicting views and versions of the truth vying it out in a gladiatorial-style deathmatch for supremacy and for the most likes on Facebook.
Confused? Maybe even annoyed? I thought so. Though, you don’t have to agree with me.
Because that’s the beauty of America; you are free to believe what you want to believe, whether you see Trump as the greatest president since Reagan in undoing the horrors of the Obama administration, or as the most dangerous and embarrassing disgrace to ever step foot in the Oval Office as he trashes the halls of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with scandal and overall incompetence. That’s your choice, and not anyone else’s.
However, these personal views can muddy the waters, making it harder for everyday Americans to maintain confidence in both the people delivering the news and the stories they tell and claim as fact, as some assert that news is being spoiled for ratings and clicks by injecting it with sensationalism and overhyped realities. Some have even gone as far as to define news that goes against their grain as “fake news,” with some others assuming the worst, that everything is “fake news” desiring only to brainwash them and their families.
So what can we do about this? More importantly, what can you do? The bad news is that there is no one magic answer; there will always be quality journalism, reporters and anchors who truly treat the art of journalism as a public utility and as a necessary community service to the nation at large. Simultaneously, there will always be crapshoot journalism, consisting of cesspools of lies and purposeful attacks on the truth that aim to disrupt public discourse and sacrifice authenticity and honesty for personal profit, whatever the payment may be.
However, there is good news. There is good news in that there are places and people you can trust to get the truth.
First and foremost, there is your local news, the channels 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 and the rest; more often than not, they are the best places to get the most reliable coverage on the events and people that most directly affect your community, and in spite of a majority of them being owned by larger companies, they are nowhere near as levelled for profit and views than the more tightly-controlled national news services.
Second, the Associated Press. According to their website, the AP is a non-profit, independent news cooperative that has gathered and republished stories from journalists and teams in over 100 countries across the globe for over 170 years, all while free from the editorialization of entertainment-oriented outlets like the Big Four television networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX). Our very own The New Hampshire is in direct collaboration with and supports the AP and their mission by publishing AP sections in our weekly papers.
Finally, there are the people; more specifically, you. Although I stated earlier that personal views can muddy the waters of objective truth, it’s those uneducated and outrageously biased minority voices that truly cause the disruption and bring dismay to the truth. In direct contrast, normal, open-minded individuals – hopefully like you, dear reader – who are willing to dive deep into the details to unveil the real core of the stories that matter to society as a whole are the best chance America – or any nation-state for that matter – has in terms of preserving the legitimacy of the news industry as we know it. It may not be spelt out in the Constitution, but it should be a civil service, a personal and dutiful obligation as an honest and hard-working American citizen to truly take what you hear in the headlines with a grain of salt until you can confidently confirm and support or debunk those statements with facts hidden within the margins of trusted publications and outlets.
Unsure of the legitimacy of what the president said or tweeted today? Do your research.
Concerned that someone major is being unfairly blamed or not facing proper justice? Do your research.
Scared of the latest bulletins from North Korea or Russia? Do your research.
Want to do your part to build a better and more honest America from the top of Capitol Hill to the valleys of your hometown? Do. Your. Research.
Because while it is easier and quicker to assume the worst, taking those few extra minutes to see the whole truth is more than worth the wait.
Follow Benjamin on Twitter @benstrawnh for the latest news.