Sunday, June 24, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Where is the truth channel?
I know it is hard to believe, but I am still on speaking terms with a few bankers. It is easy to lump them all into one category of folks who don’t seem to give a damn about the problems we are all having, but the truth is that many of them are just as much at a loss for what to do in this new world as we are.
That doesn’t mean I feel sorry for them the way I do for all the homeowners who have been caught up in this depressing recession without a way to go, it just means that most of them are human beings who still feel the anguish their fellow citizens are experiencing. And it is good, once in awhile, to touch base with them.
One of those human beings is a fellow named Dallas Haun, who is the president of Nevada State Bank. He took over a few years ago from another really decent person in the banking business, Bill Martin, so he had some big shoes to fill. And from the sounds of things, he is doing a good job during a most difficult time.
You would think Dallas and I talk a lot about banking when we get together from time to time. Other than the obligatory lament that prefaces everyone’s greeting in Las Vegas these days, there is little business discussed. Mostly, we opine on the future and how we and the rest of Las Vegas get there.
For sure, the role the banks play in helping to secure the financial futures of underwater homeowners and their neighbors who could drown right alongside them is a topic of discussion, but it is more in the “How do we fix it?” category. As in: What can the banks, the people and the government do to get us out of this mess, especially in Las Vegas, where we have felt the full force and effect of the global economic melt down?
Mostly, though, we talk about the same things most people talk about when they take the time to let their defenses down and leave their political weapons at the door. We talk about the future and how best to get there — especially, how Las Vegas can best reach its potential as one of the best cities in this country.
Somewhere in the middle of last week’s lunch, politics reared up and jumped into the middle of our otherwise very fruitful discussion. That is when we both looked at each other with what would have been a look of exasperation had we not been friends. For we found each other mouthing, mostly for the sake of challenging each others’ theories, the political certainties that can be heard nightly on the various cable “news” channels.
Mind you, it is impossible to hear the same truths on Fox News as you would hear on MSNBC. Regardless of the facts, the reporting of those facts will be diametrically opposite when given voice by those empowered to comment on either of those two “news” stations. And that raises a major concern as one worries about the future of our democracy and the sources from which people garner their news and information.
I have long believed that a young person’s beliefs will be shaped in large part by what television station is on in his home while he is growing up. This has been borne out in my observations at the Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum each year. Practically without fail, I can pick out those high school students who have grown up in a household that listens exclusively to Fox and those whose home TVs are tuned to MSNBC. Based on the same set of facts, the conclusions drawn will be polar opposites.
That doesn’t make any sense. And yet, that is exactly what is driving the political debate in this country today. The cable news channels are just an example of the compartmentalization Americans are practicing. We live amongst people who think like us, and we try to work with people who agree with us. We share coffee breaks, go to churches and synagogues, and travel on vacations with those who think as we do. Hardly ever do we put ourselves in a position where we may have to either endure the unpleasantness of a disagreement or, worse, have to argue the merits.
Is it any wonder that when people get to Congress they not only sit on the opposite sides of the aisle but they use that space as a barrier to reasonable thought? And damned be he who dares to cross that political chasm to shake hands, break bread or, perish the thought, discuss an idea that may benefit the America people. For that is the way of certain political defeat at the hands of a people who know only what they think they know.
And because they only listen to that which they choose to listen to, they don’t know very much!
So, that brings up the need for a truth channel.
There was a time in this country, long before the 24-hour news cycle that pervades our psyche and the privacy of our thought processes, when people read newspapers, magazines and watched the nightly news on television. They took that information with them to their workplaces, water coolers and meeting houses and discussed it passionately and cogently with people who believed as they did — and those who didn’t. And they usually came away with a consensus that was based on a common set of facts and an understanding that the goal was to move America forward.
All that has changed. People have access to instantaneous information, some of which is factual, and all of which is pounded over and over again from the mouths of paid shills into the brains of overworked and overwrought Americans who demonstrate daily an inability to process much more than 30-second sound bytes. And they remember even less!
All of that combines to form opinions based on opinions that are based very, very loosely on some form of facts. And the people fight to the death over their right to believe that which they believe, no matter how wrong they may be. We are a democracy on overload, to the detriment of good government.
Why can’t we go back, just for a little while, to those days when there was a channel or two that told the truth to the American people? And when there was opinion, it was clearly labeled as such, so there was no confusion.
I am one of those folks who believe that most Americans are smart enough to understand what to do when they are told the facts. I am also one of those folks who believe that many Americans have become too lazy to make the effort to discern the truth from the fiction they are fed on their cable “news” channels, their favorite blogs or whatever other sources of opinion by which they choose to be comforted.
And that presents the really scary question that I was afraid to ask Dallas during lunch.
What if we had a truth channel, which would be good for our democracy, and no one was able to recognize it?
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.