In response

Dear Editor,

I read with interest Gary Widell’s well-written letter of August 21 on the subject of free media. I agree that deciding what to believe nowadays is sometimes far from easy. We all need to set standards for what is believable. Mr. Widell’s first point is indisputable: We need to choose sources that clearly separate news and opinion. I agree, and so for serious news I choose the New York Times and sometimes the Washington Post. They clearly label the categories of news, opinion, and analysis. They both deal with problem 2, “non-substantiation”: the on-line NYT, for example, provides links to follow up on any difficult problem that could benefit by expansion.

Concerning problem 3: All reputable papers try diligently to separate facts and rumors. For this I don’t recommend the supermarket tabloids, which live off a gullible public and publish anything that will sell without actually getting them sued.

Anyhow, I was more or less comfortable with the rest of the letter until I hit the last paragraph, where Mr. Widell expresses his discomfort with the inability of the traditional media “to control the narrative, as they did for most of our history.” But his solution is to turn to the Internet. Alarms went off in my head, because thanks to the wonders of our cybernetic world, the Internet is well equipped to notice just what you and I choose to click on, identify it, and funnel directly to us just what we want to see. And soon we get the comfy glow of feeling that obviously the whole world agrees with us, so we must be holding the natural and correct opinions.

I make no claim to righteousness in this regard. I’m as fond as anyone else of having my prejudices confirmed. But I’ve heard many a preacher and professor say that sometimes we need to hear and consider opinions and facts we’d rather not have put in front of us. Handle the Internet with caution and keep a critical perspective!

With respect,

Dr. Karen L. Black,