When & Where to Read the News

The following is a chapter from my book Bruh, Read the News: A Teen Guide for Fighting Disinformation, One Critical Thinker at a Time.

As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Just like anything else in life, when it comes to reading the news, find what works for you and stick with it. If you’ve got the time to read the news in the morning, go for it. Maybe you prefer the evenings after school or your part-time job. Just keep this in mind: research suggests you should not watch the news for more than an hour a day as it’ll leave you depressed and deflated, and that’s the last thing I want this book to encourage.

Where to Read the News

Figure out where you’re going to read the news. It’s best to find a quiet place to concentrate, just like anytime you read. Maybe you prefer to read in bed, on the couch in your living room, or at the kitchen table when the dishwasher isn’t running. As long as you’ve got a fairly sanitary process and routine, bathrooms work also.

Can you guess which one’s the best seat in the house?

Not only should you pick a spot, but you also need to determine how you’ll read the news. I’m going to assume you prefer digital media. Will you read it on your laptop or desktop? In either case, create a bookmark folder in your browser for news sources. Compile around 10 trusted sources, with a good mix of the impartial or least biased, like Reuters, and the “highly factual” or at least “mostly factual” (according to MBFC), but with an obvious ideological stance, like CommonDreams.org for progressive news, and NationalReview.com for conservative commentary. The reason I suggest that you read from sources with an ideological stance is because by doing so, you’ll learn about the history, principles and values at the root of the movements on both sides of the political spectrum, as well as discover a lot of the double-speak, corruption and hypocrisy that straight news sources don’t always confront for fear of being labeled “biased” or partial to one side or another.

A Digital Alternative

Another great option is to buy an eReader. I use mine multiple times a day. Even in the evening when I’m sitting on the love-seat in the living room watching basketball and spending time with my wife, I’ve got the eReader beside me for catching up on an array of books and news articles. I recommend a Kobo eReader over Amazon Kindle for a few reasons that aren’t the concern of this book, but one worth mentioning is the fact that Kindle uses a proprietary file type, which means the eBooks from the Amazon store can only be loaded onto an Amazon device. That’s no good for me and a lot of consumers, which is why Kobo is a great alternative as it uses a universal eBook file type known as EPUB.

Rakuten Kobo US
Besides the great convenience of reading all kinds of books on my Kobo eReader, it also is integrated with the Pocket app. The way it works is this: if I come across an interesting article on my work laptop or personal desktop, I’ll save it to my Pocket account, and then when I open my Kobo later on, the article will sync to the device and be formatted just like an eBook, making the reading experience far more enjoyable and convenient than if I were to read from my computer’s browser.

You can use this to your advantage when it comes to the news especially, and it’ll help you establish a workable habit in terms of becoming informed and remaining so on a regular basis. I suggest that you go to a few of the sites you added to your News bookmark folder and start small: save 3-4 articles to your Pocket account and read them when you’ve got free time later on in the day. There are even articles in major newspapers like the NY Times that’ll compile the most important news of the day for you in one article. Even just reading 10 minutes a day this way will improve your awareness of public policy and the world around you.

You’ll likely miss a day here and there in this hectic world we live in, but don’t worry. The key is to build the habit, and make those “miss days” more and more unlikely. There are Americans walking around right now who, astoundingly, can’t name the vice president, who can’t name the number of justices on the Supreme Court and haven’t read a serious article in a newspaper or magazine in years. Should we really scratch our heads wondering why it feels like the world is collapsing all around us as we scroll through our timelines on social media?

Rakuten Kobo US

Full disclosure: if you purchase an eReader or related accessories through the link above, I earn a small commission.

The Problem With Conglomerates

The following is an excerpt from my book Bruh, Read the News: A Teen Guide for Fighting Disinformation, One Critical Thinker at a Time, available in-print & eBook through Kobo, Bookshop.org, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and more.

In this chapter, we’ll discuss who owns the news and why that ownership is bad news for America. America’s largest outlets for news are owned by a handful of conglomerates. That’s a fancy word for a major corporation that owns several other companies in an effort to maximize market share. Here’s a list of the top media conglomerates as of 2022:

Comcast

Alphabet

Walt Disney

Facebook

Apple

AT&T

ViacomCBS

Sony

Fox

You probably recognize almost the entire list, and wouldn’t necessarily associate the companies with the news. These behemoths own cable and home internet service providers, including the largest, Xfinity; film studios like Marvel and Lucasfilm; sports channels like ESPN; CBS, DirecTV, and Sony Music Entertainment, among a myriad of other assets.12 It’s the fact that we’re expected to assume that the convergence of entertainment (like Marvel movies) and reliably sourced news (like CBS News) is somehow a good fit with a profit motive at play, that should cause anyone to be extremely skeptical.

Here’s a friendly reminder that there are 50 states in the United States of America, with thousands of cities, counties and communities, made up of different demographics and economic needs, supported by a wide range of different industries. The needs of the residents of West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the nation, are vastly different from that of New York, one of the wealthiest.13 If the news on the major channels owned by the conglomerates above are so hyper-national in their approach to the news, is it any wonder why the needs of the various communities across the country are not being discussed, let alone addressed?

Unfortunately, the goal for news media conglomerates is centralization, and centralization is about streamlining resources and cutting costs. Throughout the years, I’ve heard friends and family criticize the news for running the same headlines with the same loaded language, which is a reasonable observation, but they approach it as if there’s some grand conspiracy. In fact, it has everything to do with the lack of diversity and extreme centralization of ownership in the media; the fact that so few companies own so much news.

Revenue is an important word to talk about. Just how are these conglomerates generating the money coming in? While selling advertising time and space has long been an important part of the news business, for companies like Alphabet, it represents the vast majority of revenue ($150 billion of $162 billion total). Big Tech companies like Facebook and Google have effectively created detailed profiles of users to serve up the most appropriate advertisements, further incentivizing advertisers to spend their advertising dollars with them, resulting in even more market share and power for just a few major corporations. Many, including members of Congress, have argued they are essentially monopolies: businesses in a market without perfect competition or without true competitors. Outside of public utilities like water and electricity, where monopolies are approved by local governments and prices are regulated, monopolies are bad for consumers. There virtually isn’t a price they can’t charge!

“But Google and Facebook are free,” you might be saying to yourself. Forgive me, but nothing is free. Advertisers are paying those companies for a reason. When a social media giant like Facebook and the apps provided by Google are “free,” it’s not because those companies are charitable, it’s because you are the product.

Corporate Media and a Conflict of Interest

In a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN in July of 2019, Bernie Sanders famously called out the corporate media, specifically CNN, for its revenue generating relationship with the health care industry that lobbies against a humane and equitable health care system like single payer, or at least Medicare for All (publicly funded and privately provided health care for all Americans). After CNN anchor and debate moderator Jake Tapper used, according to Sanders, a “Republican talking point,” accusing Democrats of trying to “take private health insurance away from 150 million Americans”14 by proposing the health care overhaul known as Medicare for All, Sanders pointed out the glaring conflict of interest.

“They [the healthcare industry] will be advertising tonight with that talking point.”15

File:Bernie Sanders (49554442566).jpgU.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaking with attendees at the Clark County Democratic Party’s 2020 Kick Off to Caucus Gala at the Tropicana Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nevada. Attribution: Gage Skidmore from Surprise, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

As Jake Johnson wrote for CommonDreams.org, “Sure enough, during the debate’s commercial breaks, ads by pharmaceutical giants and industry-backed organizations dominated the airwaves, further vindicating Sanders and other progressives who have raised alarm at the role corporate advertising plays in America’s media coverage.”16

When there’s so much money to be made from advertising, you can expect the news to cover less of what’s important and engage in less discussion of policy, and during the campaign season which seems to spread its calendar wings a little further every cycle, expect the news to cover the horse race instead of ask why Americans pay more for health care than any other country and still don’t enjoy universal coverage, as guaranteed in Canada, the UK and practically every other country in the developed world. You can expect the news to talk about the latest childish spat between Florida Governor Ron Desantis and U.S. President Joe Biden, rather than ask why college tuition or childcare grows at increasingly unaffordable rates year after year, and you’re all but guaranteed to hear and witness the talking heads of cable news poison the American airwaves with divisive vitriol like the dangerous levels of lead coursing through the water pipes of thousands of communities across the great United States.

That’s the problem with conglomerates.

Book Review: Kill Switch, the Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy

A majority being held hostage by a political minority. That’s the story told in Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy by Adam Jentleson, a former deputy chief of staff for the (just recently) late U.S. Senator Harry Reid.

Jentleson’s clearest example for how the modern Senate hurts and holds back America is told through the story of the “background checks” bill from 2013. In the wake of the unspeakable brutal massacre of school children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary, the bill was a bipartisan effort that had the support of Republican Senator Pat Toomey and Democratic Senator Joe Mancin. A right-wing, 2nd Amendment rights group even supported it. 55 senators were ready to vote in favor of universal background checks for gun purchases, while 45 were not. Because of the super majority needed to end a filibuster, Republicans didn’t even have to debate it, or stand on the floor of the Senate to explain to the American people why they opposed it. As the author notes,

“it had not mattered that the opponents of the bill lost the debate in the court of public opinion by a landslide…All they needed to do was hold together a minority of senators, most of whom would not face voters at the polls for several years…they were accountable almost exclusively to people who looked and thought like they did: white conservatives.”

According to Jentleson, the bill was “supported by 90 percent of Americans.” (p. 19)

Contrast that bipartisan effort with the legislative actions by Republican-controlled legislatures across the country since former president Donald J. Trump lost, but refused to concede the 2020 election. After he led an insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th, 148 members of Congress, all Republican, voted against certifying the election results in states like my own, Pennsylvania, and Arizona. Since then, dozens of voter suppression bills have either been proposed or passed. The literature on the new Jim Crow is plentiful, with authors like Carol Anderson and Ari Berman documenting the multitude of ways in which the Republican Party makes it harder to vote. These tactics include the shutting down of hundreds of precincts since the Supreme Court gutted parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 as well as the inconsistent and inequitable list of acceptable forms of ID (e.g. some states allow a hunting license, while prohibiting a college ID). Even ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sided with a Court of Appeals a few years ago that had declared a voter-ID law in North Carolina violated the 14th Amendment and aimed to eliminate minority votes with “surgical precision”. Mail-in ballots are also a large target, given that many states made it universal during the pandemic, even though the red state of Utah provides for universal mail-in, something Republican Senator Mitt Romney is very proud of, but Republicans don’t bat an eyebrow in that case. The GOP has even aimed its sights at limiting who can drop-off ballots and prohibiting the vanpooling of Native Americans from reservations to polling places.

How the Filibuster Was Established

The filibuster originated via the machinations of John C. Calhoun, who as vice president under President Andrew Jackson (his first term) and president of the Senate, allowed one member after another from the minority to debate a bill that would charter the Bank of the United States, in the hopes that the Great Compromiser, Henry Clay, would miss the summer deadline. Eventually the majority would cough or make noises signaling for the filibustering members to shut up and end debate. However, the scheme had established a tactic not yet named, and “sparked a feeling of camaraderie among the minority of filibustering senators, even though they had no hope of actually defeating the bill.” (p. 51) Then, what’s called the last question rule was established that allowed a simple majority to end this intentional delay, but during the time of Woodrow Wilson in 1917, another change was made, Rule 22, which required that a super majority agree to end debate, at first 2/3rds then later reduced to what a super majority means in the Senate now, 3/5ths or 60 votes.

Though I knew that Republican obstruction in the Senate was a major problem during the Obama Years, I wasn’t aware of the extent until now. Jentleson pointed out that by the time Harry Reid had adopted the nuclear option for the purpose of presidential appointments in 2013, half of all the appointments that had been filibustered in the nation’s history occurred while Obama was president. That’s truly remarkable, and a sure sign that it is indeed the Republican Party that is the problem.

How to Define Corruption

Among the best examples of political history in the book centers around a dispute between Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). At the time, McCain was implicated, among other senators, in a financial and federal oversight scandal that was a clear case of multiple conflicts of interest related to a businessman named Charles Keating. As a result, and likely motivated by a level of political expediency, McCain became one of the few Republicans who believed campaign finance reform was a necessity due to what he viewed as corruption: pork barrel spending and corporate lobbying. He and Democratic Senator Diane Feingold would champion what would be known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or McCain-Feingold for short. In 1999, Mitch McConnell called out McCain on the Senate floor, demanding that he name names to explain his general allegations of Senate corruption. (pp. 194-95) The dispute could be narrowed down to two definitions of corruption: the McConnell version, where there’s an explicit understanding that a lobbyist is handing over campaign contributions in exchange for either support or opposition to a piece of legislation, and the McCain version, which according to the author, lines up with the view of the Founders: that excessive amounts of money contributed to campaigns serve as a violation of the public trust in leaders and institutions that should put the interests of the country over their self-interest and preservation. (pp. 196-197) The Supreme Court would later side with McCain in McConnell v. FEC, but only a handful of years later, effectively overturn that decision with the disastrous Citizens United decision (2009) in which the conservative wing of the Supreme Court equated unlimited and corporate contributions to American politics with free speech.

Thoughts This Book Provoked

1. What I’ve realized is we’re a better country than the modern Senate allows.

2. One important takeaway from the book is the fact that American sentiment has often been ahead of the laws its country’s legislators have passed. Anti-lynching legislation and laws to end poll taxes were supported by a majority of Americans in the 1930s/40s, but a majority of U.S. senators were stopped by the minority’s use of the filibuster. In short, the filibuster added decades to the needless suffering of and lack of protection for Black and Brown Americans.

3. How radical it is that in the American system a person can be elected president with less than 50% of the vote, yet a simple majority in the Senate can be blocked from voting on legislation supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans by a super minority of senators, or more specifically, one objection in the form of a phone call or email.

4. You tell me how it makes any sense that the Senate requires 60 votes to end a filibuster, but the Republican Party can go nuclear on Supreme Court nominations, resulting in the confirmation of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh with just a simple majority, 54 and 50 votes, respectively (pp. 230 and 232).

5. I’m reminded of the common refrain that “historians today are revisionist,” which might as well be an insult because it suggests that historians are lying through their coffee stained teeth. A good analogy for why this is wrongheaded begins with the famous painting titled Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States. The Founders are standing in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The signing of perhaps the greatest document, second only to the Declaration of Independence, occurs. And you know what? It never happened that way. It’s a microcosm of the kind of job that historians are tasked with: uncovering the falsehoods, sharing the facts and providing real context. If that’s “revisionism,” well then, so be it.