February 23, 2014
Talk show host Bill Maher made an impassioned defense of “news” on his HBO show Friday night, with, of course, a few ad hominem attacks thrown in just for yucks.
In his show-ending soliloquy, Maher said people no longer exchange news around the water cooler because “as a culture, we don’t have enough in common anymore.”
And that’s because the Internet, which was supposed to unite the world, has become too adept at serving us personalized content. Do you know what I saw on Yahoo’s front page this morning? No, you don’t, because mine isn’t the same as yours. People get news feed now that just spit back customized stories based on what we’ve clicked on in the past. So I for example, might see a lot of stories about — pot, American history and, of course, Christian mingle. Whereas Ted Nugent just gets ads for Prozac and bullets. So yes, welcome to the brave new world of micro-targeting, which, look, is often harmless. No one gets hurt if my computer tells me ‘you bought James Taylor’s greatest hits, you might also enjoy this pillow and these sleeping pills.’
After calling Sen. Ted Cruz a “slippery boob” (for some reason), Maher got to his point. Showing a black-and-white picture of people on the subway from “back in the olden days,” he said:
Amazing, isn’t it? Everyone’s reading a newspaper — and no one’s masturbating. Here’s a subway car today. Everyone’s playing ‘Angry Birds’ and no one is getting news or if they are, it’s their Facebook news feed, which is now how a third of adults get their news. And this month Facebook unveiled an app called ‘Paper,’ which Mark Zuckerberg calls ‘the best personalized newspaper in the world.’ Yeah, I suppose the Washington Post is OK, like when it uncovered Watergate.
Taking aim (again, for some reason) at Facebook, Maher complained, “Hey, if one of the richest companies in America can get richer by making you a little stupider every time you look at your phone, small price to pay.”
And boy, does it make you stupider. ‘Paper’ tracks the news you’re interested in and gives you more of that and less of everything else, never burdening you with contradictory information or telling you anything new. That’s what makes it ‘news.’ But only seeing the stuff that already confirms the opinions you already have isn’t news — it’s Fox News. The reason so many Americans, for example, think climate change is a hoax is that their only source for science news is Glenn Beck, Fox and Matt Drudge, the cracker trifecta.
Newspapers may be old-fashioned, but here’s what we’re losing if you never see one; they are trying to tell you what’s actually important, not just what’s important to you. You may not read the whole paper but you at least see headlines, making you aware that something’s going on outside of your micro-targeted world of fashion or music or wiccans or zombies or whatever you’re in to.
What’s most odd in the rant is the strange desire to go back in time to newspapers, which decided what was “news” and what wasn’t. More odd: The Washington Post, New York Times, ABC News — you name it — has always presented just one side of news: Liberal. What Maher is whining about is the emergence of alternative news sources that seek to widen the debate, present other interpretations of supposed “reality.”
Even more odd was the fact that Rachel Maddow, the hyper-liberal “news” host from MSNBC and a guest on the show, giggled like a schoolgirl throughout the rant.
And for the record, dictgionary.com defines “cracker” as: “Disparaging and Offensive. A poor white person living in some rural parts of the southeastern U.S.” Another site, urbandictionary.com, goes further:
Originally the white slave driver because he would ‘crack’ the whip, hence the noun cracker.Yo homey pick the cotton faster cuz here comes ole Mr. Cracker with his whip!
But of course, Maher can say whatever he wants with impunity.