Associated Press award-winning columnist Neal Larson of Idaho Falls is also the author of “Living in Spin.” He is a conservative talk show host on KID Newsradio 106.3 and 92.1, and also at www.kidnewsradio.com. “The Neal Larson Show” can be heard weekday mornings from 8:00 to 10:00. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Listen to or read the full column below:
Most of us were taught at such a young age the story of the Boy who Cried Wolf that we were virtually born with it. The secular parable about young Peter was part of the standard repertoire of virtue stories we learned as kids.
Of course, honesty is this fable’s important single-word takeaway. But wait! There’s more. We also learn how good information gets destroyed in a flurry of lies and exaggerations. We learn how people stop paying attention to irreputable sources, and that they have every right to do so. We learn how tempting using fabrications can be to command attention from — or control over — others, and how short-lived that strategy works. Most importantly, we learn the sometimes dire consequences of the inability to discern between real and made-up threats.
All this because Peter was a lying little dirtbag.
How ironic that a centuries-old tale gets more and more relevant. Today’s information habitat is a perfect experimental environment to test the human mind’s tolerance for crappy, false, and exaggerated info. We’ve had so much of it in recent years that whatever gauges our outrage has been overwhelmed and is now kaput. Bottom line, our outrage gauge is broken.
This week, CNN was caught outraging over the fact that President Trump has two scoops of ice cream, while others have only one during White House dinners. As Bre Payton of The Federalist pointed out, it even made CNN’s chyron. Twitter went crazy, of course, extrapolating from this trivial tidbit a commentary on the deeper motivations and appetites of Trump. While my outrage gauge may usually be broken, for a moment it flickered and a “Who frickin’ cares!” registered.
CNN is certainly not the only Peter warning of wolves that don’t exist. (My sincere apologies to those triggered by the suggestion that the President’s ice cream preferences aren’t chyron-worthy, and most certainly are not anger-worthy.) There are other Peters. Plenty of them. Comparisons of Trump to Nixon have been made since the firing of James Comey this past week. There’s no evidence Trump himself is being investigated. There’s no specific allegation of criminality by anyone in authority to do so. (Oh, look, there went my outrage meter again and “Let’s wait and see” lit up.)
Perhaps the most egregious Peter is Maxine Waters. She is calling for the President’s impeachment. When pressed on what specific impeachable offense has been committed, she struggles to come up with anything. Anything at all. I’m no legal expert, but I think having a crime makes a conviction easier. (I’ve probably been watching too much Law & Order, though.) And speaking of Maxine Waters and outrage gauges, hers works when Donald Trump fires James Comey, but not when she wanted Hillary Clinton to do the same.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a problem exclusive to the mainstream media or lefty politicians. Alex Jones and his InfoWars website has scrambled its share of outrage gauges. The steady diet of fake news stories shared on social media is crushing our brains.
So overwhelmed, in fact, are we by fake news, exaggerated but selective outrage, and the constant calls for our indignation and concern, our ability to respond commensurate to any given situation will be so compromised we won’t know when the wolves really do show up to eat the sheep.
And isn’t it interesting that in some versions of the fable, Peter gets eaten by the real wolves, too.