Is the News as Scary as We Think?

Is the news really as terrifying as people make it out to be? One woman's take.

Breaking news: 2006 was one of the safest years in aviation history, with the number of crashes at a 43-year low.

"Airline travel, safer? That’s not what I’ve heard," you’re probably thinking. And no wonder.

Michael Moore dubbed CNN "The Fear Network," and it’s easy to see why. Turn on the news any time of day, and you’ll see sensationalistic headlines, urgent news crawls, and irascible news anchors engaged in rapid-fire debates. Everything seems calculated to raise your heart rate. News isn’t news anymore: It’s infotainment. Since September 11, networks have been pushing the panic button more and more frequently.

When I was a kid, oh, thirty-odd years ago, the news was the dullest program on earth. My parents knew this, and used it as a way of ensuring I went to bed on time. I can still remember the locked-off camera and the monotone voice of the male anchor as he droned on about egg prices, or the musical "Annie."

There were no flashy graphics. No fast-paced editing. No specially-scored music. Remember the O.J. trial? It was bad enough that they televised it, but who decided a grisly double murder needed its own theme music?

These days, there doesn’t even have to be a real story to justify airing it. After all, news channels have a lot of airtime to fill, and fact-checking is just so darn tedious. Any time there’s the merest hint of trouble, the cameras are all over it. Some programs have perfected myriad ways to crank up the fear and keep viewers on the edge of their seats. How many times have you flipped on the news and seen shaky camera footage with "Developing Story" emblazoned across it? What exactly is developing isn’t usually clear, but you can bet it’s not a feel-good story about someone raising money for the homeless.

Don’t let the media manipulate your emotions. Remember that they have millions of dollars and sophisticated methods designed to provoke fear in you. Why? So you’ll stay tuned and feel compelled to keep coming back for more. Do yourself a favor: Turn off the news and rent a comedy instead. Better yet, go for a walk, or do anything that makes you feel good. It doesn’t have to be newsworthy. The power to be happy is in your hand – the one that’s holding the remote.