“Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me… What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” – Luke 9:23-2
Before my reckoning, my day would look something like this:
Typically I recorded Morning Joe, 5-8
I would watch CBS This Morning, 7-9
I might catch a glimpse of MSNBC Live With Halle Jackson at 9am before heading out to meetings or my own interviews
If not, I would try to catch The View, 10AM
I told myself that sanity for the day would come with Andrea Mitchell Reports, 11am
And then maybe I’d catch a little MSNBC Live at noon, but certainly not the full hour
If home, i’d get a little Katy Tur before I picked up my daughter from school
Then I’d zoom back home to be sure the get my favorite show “Nicole Wallace’s Deadline: White House, 3pm.
***No one was allowed to speak or disrupt this hallowed hour if I could help it.***
Afterward, I half listened to MTP Daily With Chuck Todd by 4pm
I made dinner to The Beat With Ari Melber at 5pm
Entered my evening grudgingly with Chris Matthews for the hour, 6pm
Other than my Monday, Tuesday or Thursday network comedies with family or bi-monthly Girl Scout meetings, I was there for Rachel Maddow religiously and Lawrence O’Donnell with regularity
…And I often closed the day with Brian Williams
So this was my standard Monday-Friday media consumption. On the weekends, there were additional shows and at least 12 political podcasts downloading on my phone hourly.
Now as a writer, columnist and second generation Political Science grad/nerd (#ThanksDad), I could convince myself that all this media consumption was an occupational hazard… grist for the mill…part of the job.
But the truth is: I could never read it all… or watch it all…or listen to all that I had recorded…That was never the point. WHAT WAS IMPORTANT WAS TO POSSESS ALL THAT I RECORDED….so that —time permitting—I could then go back, consume, screenshot info for others and repost…like some kind of 21st century Paul(a) Revere. See some of my intrepid screenshot game below:
It was a heady, trippy, anxious sensation. And I would ride this information rollercoaster day in and day out…
Yes, I was still living my life…running errands…having meetings…still married, parenting and providing eldercare…meeting my volunteer commitments….spending time with friends…
And yet, cable media was my fix, my drug, my touchstone for American life…not what was going on in my micro-urban midwestern college town life… but “REAL” LIFE THAT I SAVORED…You know: Life where New York or DC were in the backdrop…life in the American power centers where media, politics and power were conjured, wielded and inflicted upon us all.
Then, right before Lent ( the 40 day period of fasting and reflection that occurs prior to the celebration of Easter in the Christian calendar), the massive amounts of media that I consumed daily took root in territories that I found particularly vexing: the relentless pursuit of Black and Brown voters by presidential candidates; and the media consolidation of anti-Sanders sentiment.
As I listened to all the banter around the African American vote, it aggravated me. Vote for “this one” because of their relationship to a former president. Vote for “that one” because of how much money he has poured into the Black community. Vote for “the other” because of promises made, promises kept.”
I grew weary of seeing myself as a “AFRICAN AMERICAN VOTER” #bullseyeonMYBACK to advance someone else’s political ambitions agenda and not an CITIZEN whose concerns are RARELY DISCUSSED BETWEEN ELECTIONS ( the military industrial complex, mass incarceration, voter suppression and antiquated voting machinery that plagues too many communities; environmental justice, campaign finance reform, electoral college abolition, reduction of the time and resources spent on presidential elections , income inequality for women and minorities, etc.,.)
On the matter of Sanders, I was infuriated because— in the cable media landscape— Sanders supporters are treated like empty-headed children who would vote differently if they only knew better. Thus, to watch the media demonize Sanders and Sanders supporters, I found it all deeply disrespectful. On the night of the New Hampshire primary, I even posted the following on my Facebook page:
Don’t let MSNBC rob you of your candidate.
So, as those two issues grated on me, Lent approached. As usual, I reflected on what I’d give up this year to strengthen my faith, reduce my waistline and maybe even hear God more clearly.
And a realization came to me: not a bolt of lightning, but a still small voice with a message:
“You need to give up cable media.”
No sooner that the revelation came, I felt a wave of confusion and relief sweep over me. My soul lept at the chance to try and my body followed grudgingly.
That first day of Lent last Wednesday (February 26), I was deeply anxious, weepy and lonely. I missed the noise and stimulation that comes with constant television consumption.
“What will I think about now, I wondered?”
“What is going on with the election?”
“ Maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all?”
I found myself eating more that day to fill the void. But hour by hour, that media craving lessened and by day’s end, I had made it.
Looking back on the week that was, all that emotion seemed to be part of the detox process: I had actual feelings of withdrawal and despair as I came down from all of that intense media stimulation.
Now that we are a week out, each day the experience has been one of giving myself back to myself. Disconnecting from the 24 hour news cycle has been extremely useful for me to examine WHAT I ACTUALLY THINK AND CARE ABOUT—as opposed to consuming what I am made to believe is important from cable media.
And be clear: this does not mean that I am uninformed. I still read magazines, get Google news on my phone and “Breaking News” alerts on CNN and the New York Times on my laptop. But a headline is enough for now. I see the alert…say, “Oh, OK, that happened…and go back to whatever I had been doing— free of the impulse to post, screenshot or engage with it in the social media sphere.
I also found that giving up cable news spilled over into spending less time on Facebook and YouTube —- so as not to be tempted to replace one source of scrolling content for another.
Most importantly, I find myself able to have more stillness. I feel like I think more clearly. I am spending more time with my family and can actually hear them and enjoy them…and I find myself praying more throughout the day and I am more aware of God’s presence throughout the day.
2020 presidential politics in American life has become an excruciating process to be forced to participate in and observe. It costs too much, runs too long and consumes far too much of our national civic life. So I am grateful to have removed myself from the fray to better consider how we can use our lives together in more productive ways.
As I write these words, several Democratic candidates have left the Presidential race, major anchors who I watched religiously have retired, the stock market has been on a roller-coaster and corona-virus is on the march globally.
But I am learning that I don’t have to actively engage with that overwhelming onslaught of cable news and post an opinion ( or post at all) to feel alive, to feel connected to friends or to feel “woke” or engaged.
Feel free to join me if you need a break…it might just change America if we take more time to tend to our own lives and thoughts.