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A Coming of Age or a Sign of My Age?

I grew up in a home where the evening news was on most nights before dinner. My parents had their favorite station and anchor—Walter Cronkite. He was a stable presence in our home. While I don’t recall watching or listening much, my parents modeled to me the importance of having a trusted news source in order to know what was happening in the world.

Fast forward to the past several years, especially the last four, as David and I have faithfully watched the PBS Newshour with Judy Woodruff. Judy has been a stable presence in our home and lives, a faithful witness to the extraordinary events that have taken place. She has helped me have hope during times when the world at large and the political scene in the US has been so very bleak. She’s become my news source, my news anchor. A coming of age or a sign of my age?

During the Newshour, I’ve “met” experts across the fields of science, history, and politics. I’ve had a renewed appreciation for public service through exposure to so many intelligent public servants. I’ve listened to both sides of the story and learned to appreciate that whether Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, there’s usually something to learn, a perspective to value. That’s the gift that Judy Woodruff and the PBS Newshour have offered me.

I can’t help but contrast this to an experience we had several years ago. David and I spent some time in Florida with his parents who wintered there a few months of the year. Their habit was to turn on Fox News for hours on end, every day. I remember being in our room with the door closed, a good distance from the TV in the living room, and feeling like I wanted to crawl out of my skin. The pitch and pace of this news station whipped up my anxiety, made me feel agitated, a certain foreboding. I surmised that this was clearly purposeful. Fear sells news.

I relate this to a conversation I had with some guests just a few weeks ago in the kitchen at Fall Creek Abbey. One of them mentioned that she had recently moved to live close to her mother, something she was glad for, albeit the fact that her mom was becoming “mean” the older she got. “Mean?” I said. She went on to tell me that her mother lived on a steady diet of Fox news for hours each day. This daily ration of news had, from her perspective, made her mean-spirited. Interestingly enough, another guest claimed the exact thing had been happening to her own mother.

While it may seem as though I’m writing simply to bash Fox News and promote the PBS Newshour, I really am more interested in noting how I’ve been affected by—and others have been affected by—the news source we allow into our homes. It’s apparent that not only is the accuracy of news important to understanding the complex problems of the world, so is the pace and pitch. If we continuously expose ourselves to radiation, we’re going to become radioactive! If our source of news is stimulating our amygdala, our primitive brain, our fight/flight/freeze mode is activated. Naturally we will become aggressive and mean! Or passive and hopeless.

Last night, we said farewell to Judy Woodruff during her last broadcast as anchor of the PBS Newshour. I wasn’t surprised that I felt weepy. After all, she’s been my companion over the course of some very troubling years. And every time I tuned in, Judy reminded me that there are some decent, kind, thoughtful, intelligent people in the world who are concerned for and committed to serving the common good. Bless you, Judy, and thank you!

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