Why I Stopped Reading the News

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My definition of FEAR is: The misuse of one’s creative imagination.  We all know what fear does to a person’s relationships, finances, and everyday quality of life.  Why then, do I sense the national media has latched on to the very same definition, but are harnessing “the misuse of creative imagination” as a tool to increase viewership and readers?

Here is but one example…  Recently, a USA Today article headline proclaimed, “Kidnapping Dogs For Money Rises 49% This Year.”  Soon, media all over the country (including ABC News) jumped on the story.  One media outlet made this connection: “Dognapping!  Economy To Blame For Rise In Stolen Dogs.”

Those of you who know me well are aware that, from time to time, I will embark upon an extended “news fast.”  It is not unusual for me to avoid newspapers or television for a week or more at a time.

Why do I do this?  Because I have found that the news usually makes me mad or scared.  I am a husband, a writer, a parent…and trust me, I don’t do my best parenting (or anything else) when I am mad or scared.  So I choose blocks of time from the calendar and simply refuse to read, watch, or listen to the news.

Now you might say, “Wait!  You are asking us to be ignorant!”  Nooo…  First of all, I am not asking you to do anything.  I am telling you what I do.  This is one of the ways I strive to manage my emotions.  And besides, it has been my experience that if things get bad enough, people call from all over to tell me.  So it seems like I don’t miss much.

Back to the dognapping…

Unfortunately, I was not “newsfasting” when this little nugget was placed front and center by the national media.  And I will admit that it worried me.  There I was, minding my own business in my seat on an airplane, when I saw the figure in the headline.  49%??? 

Suddenly, I was riveted by the article.  As I read, my creative imagination (fear) held free reign in my mind.  We have a dog.  Good grief!  49%?  What would the boys do if our dog were stolen?  I need to call Polly and tell her to keep our dog out of the front yard.  I probably shouldn’t put pictures of our dog on Facebook or Twitter ever again.  What else do we need to do to protect our dog?  And what about our friends’ dogs?  Oh no!  They love their dogs as much as I do mine!  I need to spread the word…

Then something else caught my eye.  “For the first seven months of 2011…” the article read, “about 224 dogs were snatched, compared with 150 during the same period last year.”  The article went on to say that during 2010 (during ALL of 2010) there were 255 dogs stolen from their owners.

Waaait a minute, I thought.  255 dogs?  Total?  Out of how many dogs in America?

So I checked.  According to the Humane Society’s website, there are 78.2 million owned dogs in the United States.  At this point, I’m trying to do the math in my head.  What part of 78.2 million is 255?  

I got out my trusty, rarely used calculator.  A few pecks later, I arrived at this number: .000326

.000326%?  Do you mean, I said to myself, that I got all worked up because there is a .000326% chance that my dog would be stolen?  Then I got mad.  (See?  I told you reading the news made me mad!)  Instantly, I saw how one news organization had chosen to arrive at the 49% number and the rest of the media—radio, newspapers, television—just piled on until we were all in a panic about our precious dogs.

I determined then (again) that I was going to be careful about discerning the truth from what was broadcasted to the masses.  In the future, I would endeavor to take everything proclaimed by the media with several grains of salt. 

But maybe you’re smarter than me…  Maybe you didn’t read the newspaper at all.


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