Review: ‘Hate Inc.’ by Matt Taibbi

One of the things that has struck me most clearly since I came to live in the United States four years ago is how terrible the news media here generally is.

You can turn on any of the major ‘news’ networks at almost any time of the day or night and see a panel of people who all pretty much agree with each other repeating the same things to each other over and over again. Instead of being presented with facts upon which you can base your opinion, you are given the broadcaster’s opinions, pre-baked and ready to consume.

You’d be well advised to turn them all off. But wouldn’t that just make you a dumber and a less informed citizen?

Well, no, not really, because America’s news media isn’t very good at providing you with actual news. In his excellent book ‘Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another,’ journalist Matt Taibbi looks at CNN and notes that between 2004 and 2008:

…about fifty thousand Congolese a month were dying from war, genocide, and associated problems like disease. It’s one of the major humanitarian disasters of the last hundred years, rivaling World War II for deaths.

But of the fourty-four Africa segments on Anderson Cooper 360 during that four-year period, only sixteen did not involve either Angelina Jolie or the plight of gorillas.

What America’s news media provides you with instead, Taibbi explains, are confirming narratives. If you lean one way politically, there is a network that will tell you that you are right and if you lean the other way there are at least two that will tell you that you are right. Both will also tell you that the other is evil. American are, thus, ‘siloed,’ Taibbi argues:

Selling siloed anger was a more sophisticated take on the WWE programming pioneered in Hannity & Colmes. The modern news consumer tuned into news that confirmed his or her prejudices about whatever or whoever the villains of the day happened to be: foreigners, minorities, terrorists, the Clintons, Republicans, even corporations.

They don’t do this because they are bad people, for the most part. They do it because they make their money, not by giving you facts, but by selling your eyeballs to advertisers. They need your eyeballs to sell and they get them by telling you want you want to hear, louder and louder, over and over again. As Taibbi explains, this has played a role in eroding civility in the United States:

The idea behind most political coverage is to get you to turn on the TV and within minutes have you tsk-tsking and saying, “What idiots!” And, from there, it’s a short hop to, “F*** those commie-loving tree-huggers!” or “F*** the Hitler-loving freaks!”

Taibbi has his political bias too — he’s a fan of Bernie Sanders — but he’s open and honest about that and has the ability to see things from the other side, or, at least, to try and understand how essentially decent people can disagree with him. This makes him, in my view, one of the most insightful commentators in America. He is always worth reading, even when you disagree.

There is is much more to ‘Hate Inc.’ than I have outlined here, but its main point is, I think, that news media is making people crazy and there aren’t even the benefits of a better informed citizenry to offset against that. We’d really all be better if we just turned them off.