News Obsessive Disorder

February 19th, 2017

Are you suffering from News Obsessive Disorder (NOD)?
Do the headlines out of our nation’s capital give you a headache? Does page-one make you anxious? Do you find yourself watching cable news non-stop?
You are not alone. NOD is endemic in the Age of Trump, and growing.
Fortunately, the doctor is in.
Valium might help, or Xanax. But the recommended remedy here is travel. Take a trip, a long trip, preferably outside the circulation area of your favorite paper, ideally to where the internet connection is spotty and wi-fi rare.
My wife and I recently sought such relief.
We left Annapolis on January 22, with the inauguration and Women’s March on the Mall and in Annapolis still ringing in our ears. We flew to Panama, boarded a ship, transited the Canal and turned south along the Pacific coasts of Ecuador, Peru and Chile, crossing the equator and basking in the full summer of the southern hemisphere. It was a speaking assignment for me on a cruise ship, a journey of some 8,500 miles in all, and it came at just the right time to detox from Trumpworld.
It is not a miracle cure for NOD, mind you. The news still gets through. The ship has a satellite that brings in some of the cable channels and sometimes the uplink to the internet works. But – here is the good news — as Washington slips further and further behind you, the headlines seem more remote, less immediate, less threatening.
South Americans know about Trump, of course, but they don’t obsess about him. They have their own worries. In Ecuador, they are still rebuilding from a terrible earthquake, in Peru there is a water shortage, in Chile, where they are in the fifth year of a drought, wild fires are raging.
On board the ship, when the satellite is working, the inescapable headlines from Washington tumble across the television screen: a blizzard of executive orders, a travel ban against Muslims that the President says is not really a travel ban against Muslims and that the courts say is illegal, the Alice-in-Wonderland comment from White House counselor Kelly Anne Conway that the Administration is not lying, but offering “alternative facts.”
President Trump holds phone conversations with a dozen world leaders and hangs up on some of them. Mexico is said to be furious, Australia confused and the French mystified.
Annapolis news is mystifying as well. The Capital Gazette website reports that Mayor Pantelides has fired the Annapolis police chief because he wants to go in a “new direction.” What is that all about?
Every day brings a new headline stranger than the day before. But as you sail further south, it all seems far away, like another planet. It is sunny and warm. You relax and read your book; your blood pressure goes down, you take a nap.
*
Eventually, the trip is over and you come home, back to the world of non-stop “Breaking News” about the chaos at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The television is on morning and night. NOD again.
Once again, you are drinking from a news fire hose: The President has fired his national security adviser after only 24 days in office, the billionaire he nominated for Labor Secretary is out before he was in, North Korea fires a missile, a Russian spy ship is off the coast of Connecticut. The scent of scandal is in the air.
On MSNBC, political director Chuck Todd warns: “Hunker down, this is a Category 5 political hurricane that’s hitting Washington.”
Then last Thursday, the President emerges in the East Room to give a 77-minute news conference like no other. It is mostly a rambling, disjointed assault on the news media, whom he loves and hates and loves to hate. NOD again.
Vacation over, it is time to pay attention and remember some hard realities: critical news about Trump is not “fake news,” leaks are not the problem, lies are. Truth is more important – and more difficult to discern – than ever. It is up to the viewer and reader to decide.
That’s unfair, I know, but in the Age of Trump and the era of “alternative facts,” that’s the way it is.

Terence Smith, who lives in Eastport, is a former White House correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News.


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