L.A. Times Op-Ed: Tune Out Cable News and Turn Away Fear

Thanks for the many thoughtful comments on my recent LA Times editorial about fear (which you can read at the end of this post). One man, noting that he was “getting closer to that permanent dirt nap,” acknowledged that he needs to put the fear aside and see our world. Others took my thoughts a step further, noting that “Fear is the next sex… it sells, sells, sells” and “Fear is a first cousin to Hate.”

I had hoped to run the editorial before our recent election, but missed it by a few days. In light of our election — which provided a reminder of how media and fear mingle before a big vote — I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on the issue. If you have friends who might enjoy this discussion, please share this post. Thanks and happy travels.



L.A. Times Op-Ed: Tune Out Cable News and Turn Away Fear
By Rick Steves

I miss the days when people would say “Bon voyage” to travelers heading off. Today, Americans instead say “Travel safely.”

I travel a lot. In the last year or so I’ve been to Egypt, the West Bank, Israel, Turkey and Russia. My loved ones worry out loud: “Rick, do you think this is safe?” I always assure them, “As long as I’m not traveling through Chicago, I think I’ll be OK.”

After traveling and lecturing across the United States in recent months, it strikes me that our

nation has never been so racked with fear. The paramount concern is “national security”: the fear that apocalyptic forces outside America’s borders — Islamic State, Ebola, immigrants from Latin America — will creep in and overwhelm us.

But the more I travel, the clearer it seems to me: Fear is for people who don’t get out much. These people don’t see the world firsthand, so their opinions end up being shaped by sensationalistic media coverage geared toward selling ads. Sadly, fear-mongering politicians desperate for your vote pile on too.

Commercial television news is hammering “the land of the brave” with scare tactics as never before. I believe the motivation is not to make us safer. It’s to boost ratings to keep advertisers satisfied and turn a profit.

When Walter Cronkite closed the evening news by saying, “And that’s the way it is,” I believe that, to the best of journalists’ knowledge, that really was the way it was. In those days, television networks were willing to lose money on their evening news time slot to bring us the news. It was seen as their patriotic duty as good corporate citizens.

But times have changed, and now corporations have a legal responsibility to maximize short-term profits for their shareholders. They’ve started sexing up, spicing up and bloodying up the news to boost ratings. And 24/7 news channels have to amp up the shrillness to make recycled news exciting enough to watch.

In a sense, news has become entertainment masquerading as news. Now an event is not news, it’s a “crisis.” Today it’s Islamic State militants and Ebola. Last month, the greatest threat civilization was apparently the National Football League turning a blind eye to domestic violence. Or was it racist cops? Or child immigrants at the Mexican border? Of course, these are serious issues. But hyping a news story as a “crisis” and lurching erratically from one to the next serves only to stir people up. Mix in negative political ads, and it can feel as if the world is falling apart.

The unhappy consequence: We end up being afraid of things we shouldn’t be — and ignoring things that actually do threaten our society, such as climate change and the growing gap between rich and poor.

It seems that the most fearful people in our country are those who don’t travel and are metaphorically barricaded in America. If we all stayed home and built more walls and fewer bridges between us and the rest of the world, eventually we would have something to actually be fearful of.

I’ve found that one partial solution is a simple one: travel.

The flip side of fear is understanding. And we gain understanding through travel. As you travel, you realize that we’re just 300 million Americans in a much wider pool of 7 billion people. It’s good for our national security to travel, to engage with the other 96% of humanity and gain empathy for people beyond our borders.

Don’t let fear-mongering politicians and ratings-crazed news channels shape the way you see our world. Get out there and experience it for yourself. Bon voyage.


5 Replies to “L.A. Times Op-Ed: Tune Out Cable News and Turn Away Fear”

  1. 3 points occurred to me while reading this.
    1. The “good old days just seem better. I remember people complaining in the 1950s about “Blood and guts 12,” the local news show at 6 and 11. People in a burning house, an exaggerated flood, a auto accident, or a murder sold then as now.
    2. We all have fears. You admit fear global warming. I think international political instability is worse.
    3. I do agree about travel. That is a good reason for a National draft and a larger standing army, with Americans stationed overseas having the opportunity to really live in other cultures not just passing through on a guided tour. This is in addition to insuring the peace as it did for half a century, contributing to the fall of the USSR.

  2. Fear: a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.

    You just subscribe to the liberal camp of fears aka global warming and the so called growing wealth gap. Other are fearful of political instability overseas and terrorism. All very real fears depending on whom you are talking to. That’s just what a fear is…real or imagined. And depending on whether you are a blue guy or a red guy…we all have fears. That’s the facts.

  3. I find your op-ed piece very interesting. Funny, I made a pledge to myself roughly four months ago to not watch any televised news. I have only listed to the news on NPR (my wife thinks their voices put her to sleep). I think that the news is in-depth and without hype. I agree with your statement that it is all about ratings and advertising. “Dumbing-down” a society is very subversive. I believe that people are not aware of the effect that it has on their feelings or beliefs. Travel can be a magical experience made up of little occurrences. They don’t have to be earth-shattering; but it is in those little moments that stick with you. My extended family and I traveled out of the US a year ago and it was wonderful to open your mind up to different ideas and ways of doing things. To this day, I think about that trip every day. And, every time we are together as a family we recount the trip.

    Travel is something everyone should do.


  4. I’ve been watching your travel shows and using your guidebooks for years. Just wanted to say Hi Rick! And you are right, travel broadens not only your mind but your heart too. Ignorance & fear are the two most troubling things in this crazy world we live in.
    Happy travels and Happy Thanksgiving.

  5. Up through September 11, 2001 no one feared a terrorist attack on American soil. Mitt Romney was mocked as a paranoid cold warrior for saying that Russia was a threat. The same person said that ISIS was the “jayvee” team. Before that no one worried too much about Iran seizing our embassy or bombing our soldiers in Lebanon. The victims wish we had been more fearful of these possibilities.

    Some fears are rational and some are irrational. It’s up to the public to assess the risk and take appropriate action.

    You have a bit of experience in fear-mongering yourself. Among the things you express about are:

    – Flawed computer models predicting that the world will be too hot at the end of the century. These models can’t account for the lack of significant warming the last plus years.

    – Displays of the American flag on car antennas causing wars and terrorism

    – Businesses in your home town turning America into the Fourth Reich by flying the flag to support our troops.

    – The government cutting public broadcasting budgets.

    – Cuts to social programs causing riots.

    Some things the left in general is fearful about include:

    – Chic-fil-A
    – School bake sales
    – Horse drawn carriages in New York City
    – Large soft drinks
    – Boys playing with toy guns
    – Men and women using separate rest rooms

    It’s all a matter of judgment. Remember, it was Obama’s first White House aide who said to never let a good crisis go to waste.

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