Turn off the news. No, seriously, do it; for your mental health, do it. There are two main reasons why such is the case. First, you feed your negative emotions by watching the news. Second, you open yourself to the propaganda hat is everywhere around us.

Who wants to be a “Debbie Downer?”

First, we note the negative emotional impact of the news. Dr. Graham C.L. Davey was part of a 1997 study entitled “ The psychological impact of negative TV news bulletins: The catastrophizing of personal worries.”1 He and his colleagues noted that watching a 14-minute news bulletin with a negative focus increased the participants’ anxiety and sadness. Moreover, those regularly consuming such negative news began to catastrophize the problems in their lives, even though those problems had nothing to do with the news items. As Davey says, people made “mountains out of molehills.”2 If you can find good news, or even neutral news, these will have the least detrimental effect on your mental health.

Is someone giving you talking points?

Second, despite sounding like some right-wing conspiracy theory, even tertiary sources like Wikipedia have covered the CIA’s use of reporters to disseminate propaganda.3 One can argue whether there is an official operation or not, such as “Operation Mockingbird.” Still, they cannot deny that the CIA has employed media members to spread its message to people domestically and abroad. If they have done so once, why can they not do it again? Are they doing it again? Allow me to interject the words of Ronald Reagan, “trust, but verify.”

A lot of people give you talking points!

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. is not the only government doing this. The recent conflict between Russia and Ukraine highlights this. So yes, you have likely been warned about “Putin’s propaganda” by our news media. But could Ukraine be guilty of spreading propaganda as well? Certainly so! The Washington Post quoted a “NATO official” who said, “They are really excellent in stratcom — media, info ops, and also psy-ops.”4 In other words, they are good at propaganda. The Washington Post continued:

“Western officials say that while they cannot independently verify much of the information that Kyiv puts out about the evolving battlefield situation, including casualty figures for both sides, it nonetheless represents highly effective stratcom.”5

People tug at your heart strings!

One can be intellectually honest and decry Putin and his invasion and admit that Ukraine desires to manipulate the West with propaganda. Zelensky wants aid and a no-fly zone. Invoking the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.6 and showing grim videos of dumped corpses into mass graves to Congress7 makes a profound emotional impact. It makes us want to do something even if we wish to stay off the battlefield.

My point is not to say whether or not we should enforce or no-fly zone or even give more lethal aid to Ukraine; it is, instead, that propaganda comes at us from all sides, seeking to manipulate us. We get propaganda when we allow the various media platforms into our homes, both foreign and domestic.

Guard yourself from news propaganda.

Lastly, here are just a few quick tips for guarding yourself against propaganda.

Listen to me play my little fiddle!

1) Be wary of cheap, emotional ploys. The message may be propagandizing if it seeks to motivate you through emotion instead of reasoning with you. Someone needs to tell you why you should do something, not just say that it will make you feel better about yourself or the situation.    

“Everybody’s doin’ a brand new dance now.”

2) Don’t blindly jump on the bandwagon. For example, someone authoritative says that everyone feels this way. The implication is that you are odd if you also do not feel this way. Or, someone says,  “All of the authorities we consulted about this topic have agreed with our conclusions.” Thus, you must step in line with “consensus.”

The fine, nigh-invisible print.

3) Listen to what someone is not telling you. Sometimes, someone wanting to manipulate us gives us all of the positives and omits the detractors that might dissuade us from agreeing with their choice of action. Instead, a person should be honest and give the pros and cons.

Shut up, commie!

4) Are they name-calling? E.g., “He is literally Hitler.” Have you ever heard someone name call someone so that you will not be inclined to listen to their testimony? The implication is that if you find something that “Hitler” says to be accurate, then that must make you a racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, etc. too.

“Two paths diverged in a yellow wood…”

5) Dig deeper when given only a binary choice. There may be moral absolutes based on a Holy Book. There may be legal absolutes based on a document. Yet, life tends to be more complex and provides for more than a binary choice. If someone says that you are either with “us” or against “us,” make sure there is no common middle ground where you can stand instead.   

…pass the bill” to “find out what is in it.”

6) Be aware of the Rahm Emanuel mantra, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”8 Hucksters will exploit the situation so that you will accept a poor choice. For example, who realized what personal liberties they were forfeiting for security with the passage of the Patriot Act? Did we care? We thought we needed a little bit of Big Brother to keep us “safe.”

Situational awareness should suffice.

So, yes, turn off the news. It is better for your mental health, and it blocks out manipulative ploys. Seek out situational awareness. In other words, watch enough of the news to know what is going on around you, but avoid the 24-hour news cycle. You will feel better about the world and yourself in so doing.

Sources Cited:

1. Davey, Graham CL. “The Psychological Impact of Negative TV News Bulletins …” ResearchGate, ResearchGate GmbH, www.researchgate.net/publication/14149927_The_psychological_impact_of_negative_TV_news_bulletins_The_catastrophizing_of_personal_worries.

2. Davey, Graham CL. “The Psychological Effects of TV News.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 19 June 2012, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/why-we-worry/201206/the-psychological-effects-tv-news.

3. “CIA Influence on Public Opinion.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Mar. 2022, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIA_influence_on_public_opinion.

4. Ryan, Missy, et al. “Outmatched in Military Might, Ukraine Has Excelled in the Information War.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 17 Mar. 2022, www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/03/16/ukraine-zelensky-information-war/.

5. Ibid

6. Collinson, Stephen. “Zelensky Taps National Psyches of Other Countries as He Appeals to Save His Own.” CNN, Cable News Network, 16 Mar. 2022, www.cnn.com/2022/03/16/politics/zelensky-speech-national-psyches/index.html.

7. Ryan, Missy, et al. “Outmatched in Military Might, Ukraine Has Excelled in the Information War.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 17 Mar. 2022, www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/03/16/ukraine-zelensky-information-war/.

8. “A Quote by Rahm Emanuel.” Goodreads, Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/quotes/717228-you-never-want-a-serious-crisis-to-go-to-waste#:~:text=Quote%20by%20Rahm%20Emanuel%3A%20%E2%80%9CYou%20never%20want%20a,that%20you%20think%20you%20could%20not%20do%20before.%E2%80%9D.