In generations past, information was provided by word of mouth, or through reading, either in a book, a letter or a periodical. It was a slow system, but it did have an advantage: information came in one item at a time, and people had an opportunity to chew on the new bit of information for a while and consider whether to accept it or not.
Today, though, we are bombarded with information. The internet certainly has been an incredible boon, as it serves as book, periodical, and mail service all in one, and has the advantage of being immediate. Television is another animal entirely.
Television provides information continually, and we have only limited control over what we receive from it. In addition, in recent years, it has become a means through which to indoctrinate viewers with propaganda. For example, a conservative-thinking viewer may feel that he is in control if he selects, say, Fox News instead of the network news that he considers to be biased toward the liberal-thinking networks. He may or may not notice that, in the bargain, whatever good points the left has to offer are missing from Fox - many liberals that are allowed on Fox are those who are hopelessly inept and, not surprisingly, get roundly trampled by the Fox hosts (thereby reinforcing the conservative view). Additionally, information regarding libertarians such as Ron Paul is frozen out almost entirely.
Should we then avoid television news? Possibly so, but it does have its use. It alerts us as to current events. The trick is to use it as an "alert" service, while keeping clear of the dogma that it feeds us.
How do we do this? There are any number of methods; however, here are a few tips that work well for me:
Recognise the bias of the network
If you do not already know who owns the network and what their political agenda may be, a simple search on the net can inform you. When turning on a news programme, assume that the reporting will reflect the bias of its owners. For example, if you are a conservative and therefore enjoy Fox News, assume that, although you may enjoy the conservative reporting you are viewing, the slant that is presented may not be entirely accurate. News programmes seek to indoctrinate their viewers, herding them to the left or the right, depending upon the agenda of the network owners. Whilst we all enjoy having our views reinforced, in troubled times, it is essential that we expose ourselves to the truth, however unpalatable it may be.
Identify the income source of the pundit
As soon as a guest is announced on a news programme, before listening to what he has to say, take note of what it is he does for a living. For example, if he is a stock broker, you will know in advance that he is going to say that this is a good time to invest in stocks. If he is a politician, he will provide comments that will make him appear as though he deserves your vote. His statements may possibly be true, partially true, or entirely untrue. Knowing who butters his bread will serve to raise your antenna, so that you may question his veracity. Once you have this thought lodged in your consciousness, you are far less likely to be influenced by any bias that he offers.
Seek out variety in reporting
Understandably, you will prefer to watch a network on which the hosts and guests sympathise with your viewpoint. However, try to spend at least a third of your time watching networks on which the hosts and guests offer the opposite view. Whilst this is, at first, downright irritating to do, if done regularly and consistently, it will provide more of a balance. The first benefit is that it will give you a better grasp of how the opposing view is being sold to its followers. Second, you will develop a clearer picture of liberal bias vs. conservative bias, neither of which is likely to be fully accurate. The truth is likely to be somewhere in the middle, or on some occasions, entirely missing.
As an example, for years, I occasionally read the investment column in USA Today. My investment partner would occasionally ask, "Why would you waste your time reading such an obviously misinformed source?" The reason I gave was, "Because it's a favourite source for Boobus Americanus. He represents a large percentage of investment capital, and I want to know what knee-jerk opinions he is basing his investing on, so I can understand some of the absurdities in market swings."
On important issues, seek further confirmation
The internet is loaded with sites in which political, social and economic information is offered. Rather than seeking out those sites that you most enjoy, focus instead on those sites hosted by individuals who have a track record for providing truth. It is always more beneficial to read the truth than to read that which we like to believe.
Be suspicious of distractions
With great regularity, hosts of programmes will make statements, such as, "Mrs. Merkel has confirmed that she and her colleagues in Europe remain fully committed to keeping the EU together, so we can treat that as an assumption at this point. Our only question should be in what way the Union will develop." The media are rife with such erroneous assumptions. Statements such as this should not simply be accepted in the way the host or guest hopes. Treat such statements as intentional distractions from possible realities.
Continue to question
Above all, retain a degree of uncertainty in your mind. Even if you have done all of the above and are keeping an open mind, it is human nature to prefer to reach a conclusion on any given issue and file it away on a dusty shelf in the mind, to possibly be added to, but never again questioned. In a time of dramatic change, such as we are now experiencing, your well-being will be dependent upon your ability to maintain an inclination to consider nearly everything as an uncertainty. Even those of us who maintain doubt will be in for some surprises in the coming years.
This promises to be a very difficult period to understand the true nature of events. The odiferous effluvium is deeper and more omnipresent than ever before. Stay on your toes and you increase the odds of remaining adaptable.