This piece from the Dispatch (possibly paywalled) on how The New York Times misled its readers with an overly “Hamas-friendly” headline makes a valid point, I guess — but I think much of the problem here is baked-in to minute-by-minute journalism. You don’t have to be a hard-core opponent of Israel to get a headline like that wrong — in the heat of the moment even a slight lean towards the people living in Gaza might be enough to influence your headline. If you have to post something on your website, and post it right now, you’ll not be consistently judicious and fair-minded.
[UPDATE: The Times has published an apology.]
I didn’t know that the Times had perpetrated this headline because any political crisis strengthens me in the habits I have been trying to cultivate for some years now: to watch no TV news at all — that part’s easy, I haven’t seen TV news in the past thirty years, except when I’m in an airport — and to read news on a once-a-week rather than a several-times-a-day basis. My primary way to get political news, national and international, is to read the Economist when it shows up at my house, which it does on Saturday or Monday. (I don’t keep the Economist app on my phone.) I have eliminated political sites from my RSS feed, and only happened upon the Dispatch report when I was looking for something else at the site.
The more unstable a situation is, the more rapidly it changes, the less valuable minute-by-minute reporting is. I don’t know what happened to the hospital in Gaza, but if I wait until the next issue of the Economist shows up I will be better informed about it than people who have been rage-refreshing their browser windows for the past several days, and I will have suffered considerably less emotional stress.
It’s important to remember this: businesses that rely on constant online or televisual engagement — social media platforms, TV news channels, news websites — make bank from our rage. They have every incentive, whether they are aware of it or not, to inflame our passions. (This is why pundits who are always wrong can keep their jobs: they don’t have to be right, they just have to be skilled at stimulating the collective amygdala.) As the intervals of production increase — from hourly to daily to weekly to monthly to annually — the incentives shift away from being merely provocative and towards being more informative. Rage-baiting never disappears altogether, but books aren’t well-suited to it: even the angriest book has to have passages of relative calm, which allows the reader to stop and think — a terrible consequence for the dedicated rage-baiter.
“We have a responsibility to be informed!” people shout. Well, maybe, though I have in the past made the case for idiocy. But let me waive the point, and say: If you’re reading the news several times a day, you’re not being informed, you’re being stimulated. Try giving yourself a break from it. Look at this stuff at wider intervals, and in between sessions, give yourself time to think and assess.
UPDATE 2023–10–23: One tiny result of the Israel/Gaza nightmare, for me, is that it has revealed to me those among the writers I follow via RSS who are prone to making uninformed, dimwitted political pronouncements. Those feeds I have deleted without hesitation.