I Read the News Today… Oh Boy!

Yesterday morning while on the treadmill in the gym, I tuned in to the television to see a brief update on the second large earthquake to hit Nepal in less than a month. The story quickly summarized the situation, reassured us that casualties were far fewer this time around (“only” 30), and then we moved on. On Morning Joe, the very next words out of the presenters’ mouths were, “now turning to our top stories of the day…” And so the news turned to the really important business… NFL Patriot footballs and the 4 game suspension of Tom Brady.

I sighed and turned channels. More commentary on the Patriots and Tom Brady. A third channel… the same story.

We live in a world where we have access to so much information. We know about things that are happening in parts of the world that were almost completely unknown to us a century ago. Modernity has brought us human challenges that our ancestors did not have to face, demanding responses from us that they never could have imagined. Take, for example, what we find in Jewish tradition about how to respond to those in need. We find halachic responses that provide us with a hierarchy of how we should go about trying to meet all of the need, beginning with our own families, taking care of our local community, and then trying to respond to those who come from further afield. While the existence of rabbinic discourse on a process of determining how to meet these needs is very helpful, we find ourselves living at a time when the realities and difference in scale that can exist between local and international needs call upon us to navigate a much more complex landscape of need today.

But why, given the complexities of a world that requires our engagement, attention, compassion, and response, do we so often find ourselves drawn to the least consequential and insignificant events and deem them the top of the day’s ‘news’? I know that cheating in sports is not inconsequential. I know that values that we hold dear, like fairness and honesty, can be held up in a story like ‘Deflategate’. But, just as the generations who came before us had to determine a way of trying to meet, at least in part, a multitude of needs, so today we need to determine what is worthy of our attention as top news. And unlike the “Deflategate story” where, as Rabbi Brad Hirschfield argues, it is easy to scapegoat Tom Brady while others such as Coach Belichick seem to have avoided harsh critique, when it comes to the news we no longer live in an era when we can blame the networks. We, the people, have more ability to choose our own path through the media than in any time in history. We have access to direct sources via Twitter. There are blogs with many different areas of focus. We can access the news as it is being told by the main providers of other countries, giving us access to what is happening in many parts of the world (the lack of a free press or freedom of speech in some parts of the world is clearly one important limitation to our ability to learn about and access some stories).

Our tradition offers us so much guidance on the mindful use of our time. Time to study, times to act, times to offer prayers of gratitude for the gift of the day we have been given. While no-one will give us a simple road-map, and how we use our time and what we choose to learn about our world is both an enormous question and a somewhat subjective one, what we choose to read as news and how this shapes our ability to understand and interact with the world is certainly worthy of great thought and care. And in this particular moment, I just don’t think deflated balls make the list.

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