When we were kids, one of my best friends was a huge fan of the band Ten Years After. Led by the singer/songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Alvin Lee, the band put out several albums during the late 1960s and 1970s, and had one of the best performances at Woodstock—their classic ‘I’m Going Home.’ But for all of his guitar virtuosity, Alvin Lee was not the greatest songwriter. ‘I’m Going Home’ was a cover, as were a number of the band’s best songs.
And, for all of his hard-rocking, Alvin Lee is probably best known for his 1971 song ‘I’d Love to Change the World,’ which was a slow ballad mostly on acoustic guitar. The song is lovely, but it also points out that Lee was not the world’s best lyricist, including verses like:
Life is funny, skies are sunny,
bees make honey, who needs money . . .
Still, it featured a chorus which was either deeply cynical and fatalistic, or just used an easy rhyme. I’d like to believe that he saw the fatalism, but there’s nothing in his lyrical oeuvre to indicate that sort of thought when he sang:
I’d love to change the world
But I don’t know what to do
So I’ll leave it up to you.
That pretty much sums up the human condition, doesn’t it?
I have not listened to a news report, either on TV or the radio, since November 2016. Can’t take it. I am online a lot, both for research and for my job, so of course I see headlines. People say, ‘Did you hear about the prostitute and the hush money?’ or ‘Did you hear about the memo?’—and I say, ‘Well, I saw the headline, do I really need to read the story?’ I read an insightful commentary the other day about why it is possible that people who get most of their news from late night comedians and other satirists may well be better informed than people who watch a lot of news.
If someone tells an obvious, bald-faced lie, say something like, ‘I was wiretapped by a former president,’ all the news shows talk about it. They know it’s a lie, there’s absolutely zero evidence of it having happened, and yet they will spend weeks holding panel discussions and calling in experts to talk about the implications and ramifications of this wiretapping, if it had happened. Of course, it’s a lie, everyone knows it’s a lie, and yet people who consume a lot of news hear a lot about it just the same.
This is all due to a problem that has grown up in journalism dominated by our two-party political system. This is the myth that there are two sides to every story. It is the job of journalism to tell both sides. But the simple fact is, there are not two sides to every story. In many stories, there is simply the truth. It was the contention of this piece I was reading that years ago, journalists understood that their job was simply to tell the truth.
In today’s ‘news’ environment, someone can tell a lie, and then send out surrogates to all the news shows to defend that lie. The news shows all interview that surrogate, because they are dutifully ‘telling both sides of the story,’ even though they know the person has been sent to defend a lie. Why do they do this? Because they have bought into the false mantra that their job is to tell both sides of the story. It’s not. Their job it to tell the truth.
Comedians and satirists have the luxury of calling bullshit bullshit. They do a two-minute segment on the latest lie emanating from on high, get a few laughs, and move on. No panel discussions about the lie, no interviews with other liars. And thus, their audiences may have a clearer picture of what’s going on than people who assiduously tune in to CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, or whatever.
I think this is important, and I think other people should understand it. But people never will, either people who listen to way too much ‘news,’ or people who are disposed, by reason of party loyalty, to either believe the lie, or—more likely—to believe that turning a blind eye to the latest lie is being supportive of the office from which the lie originated. To put it into simple words, I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do.
I never listen to news. I am exposed to some of it. But I have little reason to believe I am less informed than people who awake with NPR, Morning Joe, or Fox and Friends, and spend the rest of the day with newspapers, radio, and TV news. I sometimes feel that I should be more involved, but I don’t know what that involvement would be. I will vote, of course. I sign several petitions each week, and send letters to my representatives all the time. Does this make a difference? Of course not. One of my senators believes everything I believe, while the other believes nothing I believe, so my letters are just so much smoke in the wind.
I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do, so I’ll leave it up to you.