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Is News Toxic?

By Gregory Flannery · May 18th, 2008 · On Second Thought

Junk mail isn't always junk. Sometimes even an advertisement for a product or service that doesn't interest us can prompt useful questions.

I recently received an e-mail from Andy Feld, a motivational speaker operating under the alluring name Simple Happy LLC. Addressed to "mortgage and business friends," the ad is headlined, "Any News Junkies Out There?"

I'm always looking for new sources of information, so the headline caught my eye. But instead of a pitch for a news service or online subscription, the ad warned, in effect, that news can be harmful to our mental health.

"Admit it!" Feld writes. "You are addicted to the daily negative onslaught of local, national and world news. Now what are you going to do about it? Why not consider a 48 hour fast?"

The language uses sound marketing strategy. The words "addicted" and "fast" are certain to resonate with consumers of mental health services, New Age spirituality, alternative health practices and dietary fads. The illness that Simple Happy LLC contends with is Too Much Information.

"If you are a regular listener, viewer or reader of the daily news, how can you stay positive about your life?" the ad says.

"How much information on the mortgage industry, housing industry, crime, cancer and fighting overseas do you really need to know? The daily news is nothing more than the daily BAD and SENSATIONAL news." (emphasis per original)

That last line is an old canard, as uninformative as ever: "They only report bad news." There is a reason for that. If your neighbor kills someone, you want -- even need -- to know it. If your neighbor doesn't kill anyone, do you want a daily update?

"How many millions of people had a warm, pleasant dinner with their family last night?" Feld writes. "How many millions of people laughed and had fun yesterday? How many millions of people have good housing, clothing and food? How many millions of wonderful deeds were done worldwide yesterday? Why don't we hear about any of this?"

This time the ad misleads. We do, in fact, hear quite a bit about "wonderful deeds" -- stories about charities, inspiring religious leaders, heroic kindness and accomplishments in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles are common in newspapers and TV. The obvious retort to Feld's assertion is: How does he know good deeds were "done worldwide yesterday?" Someone must have reported it to him.

Fortunately, Feld doesn't blame the reporters and editors who have created this unhealthy condition. The fault instead lies with you.

"Our media is of course a 'for profit' business and we, the consumer, have trained them that we will pay for negative sensational news," the ad says. "Therefore, they search the world for the stories that scare us, anger us, frustrate us and make us feel like victims. It is not their fault; we have trained them that this is what we want and will pay for."

The solution apparently lies in a 48-hour "fast" -- and a six-CD set called Simple Happy that costs $97. I'm not listing the Web site for placing orders here. If people start fasting from the news, I lose my job security.

CONTACT GREGORY FLANNERY: letters@citybeat.com



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