Sometimes Our Opinions Just Don’t Matter


Crazy notionsThe headline for this piece comes from a recent article in Time Magazine: “Dear CNN: Sometimes Our Opinions Just Don’t Matter.” The article isn’t – as you might have thought – about local bloggers. It’s about critical thinking. Or rather, the lack of it, on CNN’s part.The lack of it on the part of local bloggers I’ll save for another day.

CNN has been running almost non-stop coverage of the plane’s disappearance, repeating in endless loops the same, paltry information they have, then trying to spin that into yet another story. It’s obsessed with the disappearance, to the point where CNN has been mocked by other media for its coverage.

CNN ran a poll about the missing Malaysian airliner. Most of which, as the Time article points out, is moot. And one of the questions was whether or not aliens or time travellers hijacked the plane.

So CNN issued the results of a poll today about the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Should the search continue? Are the searchers looking in the right area? Oh, and could the plane’s vanishing have been caused by “space aliens, time travelers or beings from another dimension“? (At least “somewhat likely,” said 9%.)

My first reaction was bifurcated between two reactions: how stupid are some people? And: why is CNN asking people such stupid questions? But Time’s writer, James Poniewozik, got deeper into the core of the matter:

…whether you’re talking UFOs or hijackers, you’re still asking for people’s opinions on a matter of objective fact. Flight 370 is at the bottom of the Indian Ocean or it is not. It was crashed intentionally or it was not. It doesn’t matter what your opinion is. It doesn’t matter what feels right to you. That fact may not be known, but unless we are dealing with some kind of Schrödinger’s Cat paradox here, the absolute fact exists, and it has nothing to do with what your gut tells you.*

And, frankly, as he says, it really doesn’t matter what anyone on the street thinks happened because it has no bearing on the search, or the disappearance. Like so many polls, it simply becomes a platform for people to express themselves on issue that are not relevant to anyone but themselves. But, like many of us do, feel we have the God-given right to say whatever we please regardless of whether it is relevant.

…God help us all, too, if we buy into what seems to be the implicit message of the poll: that your opinion always matters, by God, because it’s your opinion and this is a free country you have the right to have it taken seriously, even on matters of incontrovertible, physical fact.

It speaks volumes about what has become of CNN – a once-credible media outlet – as it caters to the sensation-driven, voyeuristic nature of the social media crowd. It’s the victory of titillation, innuendo and conspiracy theory over reliable, believable reporting.

Why would a news outlet that positions itself as a serious, credibles ource even ask people about imaginary creatures or whether scifi TV show plots could be the answer?

During a presidential election, does CNN ask if people will vote for Superman or Wonder Woman? Do they ask if America should go to war against the Cylons? Or whether municipalities should make keeping invisible pink unicorns illegal?

CNN has delved into the depths of this nonsense even before the poll. As reported earlier, CNN’s commentator Don Lemon asked whether the flight may have been swallowed by a random black hole. Clearly Lemon doesn’t understand the physic behind black holes. But he made it worse, later, by invoking a supernatural – i.e. magical – speculation:

On Sunday, Lemon said this: “Especially today, on a day when we deal with the supernatural, we go to church, the supernatural power of God. You deal with all of that. People are saying to me, why aren’t you talking about the possibility — and I’m just putting it out there — that something odd happened to this plane, something beyond our understanding?”

CNN’s executives should hide their head in shame that one of their TV hosts should show such an embarrassing lack of understanding about basic science.

Lemon also wondered aloud, to a panel of commentators, whether something “supernatural” had happened to the plane.

Which puts CNN on the same intellectual level as such channels as Discovery and History which fill their airwaves with mindless “reality” shows about superstition and pseudoscience. We expect this sort of irresponsible speculation from the wingnut sites, maybe even from FOX, but not from CNN.

Of course, it was great for CNN’s ratings: they soared the deeper it descended into the silliness. Catering to the lowest common denominator. Soon CNN’s obsessive coverage – and its wackiness – became news itself. So more people turned to CNN just to see what all the hullabaloo was about. It’s an onanistic cycle.

Conspiracy theories – whether they are local or international – are the stuff of fantasy, fueled by a lack of fact, and inherent paranoia. On the internet, they have replaced mindless TV sitcoms as the fodder for the hard-of-thinking. Don’t understand science? Then blame aliens. Or time travellers. Or advanced weapons that make the plane invisible. Tell the world it’s a government conspiracy that keeps it secret. Always blame the politicians because no one trusts them anyway.

Yes, it is embarrassing to America that almost one person in ten believes this codswallop. So what? Forty six percent of Americans believe in creationism. Forty eight percent believe ET has visited Earth. Fifty eight percent believe the devil is a real person and hell is a real place. Seventy four percent of American teens and 68% of American adults believe in angels. Twenty nine percent believe in astrology; 26% believe in witches and 24% believe in reincarnation – that they were once another person before this life.

Americans are woefully misinformed about many things. Believing in the supernatural, the silly, in pseudoscience and the imaginary and in sheer, unadulterated codswallop is rife among our neighbours (and growing among Canadians, I am ashamed to admit). So, if only nine percent believe Flight 370 was abducted by aliens, then it may be cause to celebrate.

But entertaining as it is to fantasize time travellers or alien abductions, in the end, no one really wants to hear your opinion about them because they don’t matter. That’s right: what you think happened to the plane doesn’t matter. Your opinion won’t change the actions of the search parties, the governments or the families suffering from the loss of their loved ones.

In fact, they can hurt people. Wasting time chasing “information” from so-called “psychics” or looking for signs of UFOs because of public clamour simply wastes the time, energy and money of the searchers. Might as well look for the invisible pink unicorns, too.

Internet sites feed on this stuff because it fills the void when looking for content. When you have nothing to say, make something up. Blog about it. Point fingers. Accuse someone. Accuse aliens. Then blame politicians. The Net is rampant with this mental pablum, and it drizzles down the screen in social media feeds like a rain storm.

Sure, it’s easy to poke fun at those who promote such claptrap; any conspiracy theory is open to ridicule. And it gives the critics a chance to make righteous noises and feel superior. But are they? By repeating such nonsense, by endlessly analysing it, it gives it better traction.

We expect – or after this, I should say expected – better, more responsible coverage from CNN. Yes, one in ten Americans show a startling stupidity in their beliefs. So what? Stop catering to the lowest common denominator and try reaching out to the majority. Get back to news; the stuff that matters.

The public deserves fact and evidence from the media, not wild conjecture and fantastic speculation. Those should stay where they belong: on the blog and conspiracy theory sites.
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* I trust the reference to the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat didn’t escape my readers.