The news might set you free
On the septuagenarian Today Show, North Korean dictators, and the very modern need for Cold War tools of public diplomacy
For as much as people wisecrack about living in a "post-truth" era, human beings haven't really surrendered our basic impulse to try to grasp a sense of what's really happening in the present moment. We are social creatures, and being social requires knowing what other people are doing, thinking, and feeling. If someone in a crowd suddenly turns and points at something overhead, it's a sure thing that almost everyone else will turn and look, too.
■ That is the essential attraction of news: News is whatever materially changes our understanding of the status quo. Lots of other things try to masquerade as news, but many "also-rans" in the world of news coverage are merely items of information or documentation of events.
■ In the free world, we often voluntarily subject ourselves to non-news because it has entertainment value. There are not actually four hours of news contained in one "Today" show. There's a little bit of news, and then a lot of other stuff. But people like to watch, so on it goes into its 71st year.
■ Americans generally have the luxury of taking news less than seriously. But people elsewhere aren't so fortunate. The United States invested in international broadcasting throughout the Cold War as a means of achieving public diplomacy -- reaching people living under Communism, so that they could learn what their governments wanted to suppress.
■ Totalitarian and authoritarian regimes are good at filling "news" time with non-news; witness the fawning domestic coverage of North Korean autocrats, the propagandistic efforts of China's CCTV, or the utterly distressing content being broadcast by Russian state television. But people living under those regimes still need and deserve to be told the truth.
■ Taxpayers in the United States should be proud to fund outlets like the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and other arms of the US Agency for Global Media. In seeking to tell the truth and report on what legitimately matters as news, especially in places where that coverage is inconsistent or even prohibited by local authorities, these outlets serve a vital purpose for building a better world.
■ Reality is the best friend of liberty; people who know the truth don't voluntarily choose to be oppressed. People can generally sense when they're being told lies, but that isn't the same as being told the truth. America has taken our international broadcasting agencies for granted for too long. In a complicated world with altogether too many bad actors eager to deny people their natural freedoms, the cost of making sure people can get real news everywhere is a small price to pay.