How News Distorts Reality

Frightening, alarming, bad stuff sells. Our brains are especially attuned to danger. The people who sell news know this, at least intuitively, and use it against you for their own benefit.

Your attention gets arrested by an alarming headline, and arrested attention sells newspapers, so any paper that tries to sell newspapers without alarming headlines is out-competed by newspapers with alarming headlines.

During the first half of the 1990's, the murder rate went down, but during that same period, media coverage of murders tripled! The headline of a small child who gets murdered works to get us to buy the paper, which is good for the newspaper people BUT it leaves you depressed. It is a pessimistic communication that makes your view of life worse than it is and makes you less willing to act.

The overselling of bad news (and underselling of good news) is darkening the viewpoint of people at large, which actually creates worse conditions, which leads to more bad news!

The REAL world is not in a magazine, no matter how realistic. The magazine is a distorted view of reality. In the example given in The Profit of Doom, Colors Magazine depicted a man in a polyester jump suit standing on a well-manicured lawn with a nice house in the background, and he was feeding a tidbit to his well-groomed poodle. The other picture was five or six young boys, dirty and ragged, living in a hole in the street.

This is a distortion. The rich guy was perfectly rich, the poor kids were perfectly poor. The magazines that flaunt everything that's terrible in the world are out after your money. Other magazines, like the Christian Science Monitor, win awards because they care first about journalism and trying to accurately relay the truth. Of course they make money, but they don't sacrifice reality to sell copy.

The tabloids that sell "news" about things like an alien mating with the ghost of Elvis constantly sacrifice reality to sell news. The eleven o'clock news isn't as blatant, but they also distort reality to sell news.

There are billions of people and billions of stories to be told. Yes, terrible things happen, but so do magnificent feats of courage and great love. The bad-news hawkers are ruining your attitude. And the horror about that is that in the real world, the world you find yourself alive in right here before you, in this real world, this actual real live world where your butt sits, in this world, a bad attitude means less good gets done in your life. Not only did you lose the moments absorbing the bad news, your state after absorption leads to less achievement, less love, less happiness, less health...less life. Bad moods rob us of energy and drain all who interact with us, so they also get less done and so on.

what you can do about it

Alarm and fear sells papers and gets people to watch the program, which makes the station more money from the advertisers. Our perceptual apparatus wasn't designed to deal with news. It isn't equipped to handle the woes of the far corners of the earth. The unfortunate incidents of our own life, including the people close to us, is about all we can deal with well.

Merely seeing a news story about a tragedy makes that kind of incident seem more prevalent, more common, than it really is. If we only went by what we actually saw in real life, the world would not seem very dangerous.

Here's what you can do about it:

Stop tuning into any news that makes you feel helpless, distrusting, fearful, hopeless, and that doesn't give you the sense that you can do something about it. If you want to "stay up on the events of the world," try to find sources that don't create pessimism.

Pick the global problem that most bothers you and do something about it. If you think there's nothing you can do, then first cure yourself of your own pessimism. The resources on this web site can help you (see links below).

Share this page with people you know. And if someone emails you some bad news, tell the person about this page.

If a friend of yours seems pessimistic, help her or him become more optimistic. Optimism does not include burying your head in the sand or in the clouds. It is a balanced look at reality. It is practical and effective. As I say in the second chapter of Self-Help Stuff That Works:

In a study by Lisa Aspinwall, PhD, at the University of Maryland, subjects read health-related information on cancer and other topics. She discovered that optimists spent more time than pessimists reading the severe risk material and they remembered more of it.

“These are people,” says Aspinwall, “who aren’t sitting around wishing things were different. They believe in a better outcome, and that whatever measures they take will help them to heal.” In other words, instead of having their heads in the clouds, optimistic people look. They do more than look, they seek. They aren’t afraid to look into the situation because they’re optimistic.

Optimism will give you the strength to confront difficult realities with open eyes. Optimism has the potential to be even more contagious than pessimism. If nothing else, optimists tend to have more energy. But there is something else: Optimism is more ethical. It is more life-giving, more enjoyable. It is more right.

If you would like some information about becoming optimistic, check out the Attitude section of the book, Self-Help Stuff That Works.

If you would like some information about how to help other people become more optimistic, read the People section of Self-Help Stuff That Works.

Go to the following sites and get the email addresses of your representatives and senators and put them in your address book, and write to them now and then. Urge them to vote on the bills you feel strongly about. Let them know what you think. This is an easy way to have an effect. The important thing is to do something about what you learn. This prevents you feeling like a helpless victim, which is the end result of watching or reading mainstream news. Feeling helpless is bad for your health and impairs your ability to accomplish in this world.

Learn more. Take action.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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