When Middle Eastern scholar Reza Aslan came to campus, he also managed to pay a visit to a class of mine long enough to tell us, â€œIf your main source of news has commercials, itâ€™s not news.â€
Appalled by his ignorance, I dismissed his comment, and as soon as I got home, turned on â€œThe Daily Showâ€ to catch up on world events. It should be noted that the previous statement is satirical; however, Jon Stewart is a very funny man.
While I originally disagreed with Aslanâ€™s statement, the more I thought about it, the more interesting it seemed.
When Aslan mentioned commercials, my first thought turned to advertising. One of the fundamental rules of journalism is that the news should be free to the public, and thus paid for by advertising.
If Aslanâ€™s statement is correct, then there is no such thing as news. In order to pay for the costly printing of the newspapers and the well-supported salaries of reporters (yeah, right) every newspaper and news show needs to sell advertising slots to keep the cost of the news to an absolute minimum.
This allows any news source to pick and choose advertisements they wish to appear next to their name.
It seems that most Americans (me included) get their news from one of two cable news stations: Fox News or MSNBC.
Iâ€™m aware that this may be an exaggeration, but both networksâ€™ ratings speak for themselves; according to the Washington Examiner, Fox News held the top 13 slots for most popular programming of the first quarter of 2010.
This begs the question: what exactly is â€œnewsâ€ in this country?
It would be easy to dismiss all television shows as â€œnot newsâ€ due to an obvious partiality regarding the majority of news networks.
Itâ€™s no surprise to turn on Fox News and see Glenn Beck crying about socialism or to see Keith Olbermann challenging congressional Republicans to a â€œfight to the deathâ€ style cage-match on MSNBC.
Is it even possible to trust what one hears on either of these two networks?
After class, a friend of mine went to speak to Aslan regarding his comment. She told me he claimed the main news source he looked at was The Economist. Seeing as though I am writing this column, and therefore have at least four different internet tabs open, I pulled up The Economist Web site.
Relatively free of advertising, The Economist.com had failed me, and I was ready to start this column over, until I saw an advertisement asking me to apply for the CIA.
I had to ask myself, is this a sign from the liberals asking me to put my opinions to good use or from the neoconservatives as a reminder that the CIA is always watching me?
Apart from my emotional mix of suspicion and joy, I realized that even The Economist uses advertisements, and would therefore be contradictory to Aslanâ€™s claim. Would this mean there is no unbiased news source?
After a long, personal debate about the pros and cons of joining the CIA (I hear it has a great health care plan) I returned to my column with a new found idea that maybe Aslan was urging us all to be diligent in our search for news; we must not accept the information from a single source.
We must scour the newspapers, Web sites and â€“â€“ given the current popular culture â€“â€“ television shows to gain as much information as we can to make an educated decision concerning our own policy beliefs.
We must listen to ideas we disagree with and constantly question our own viewpoints to further solidify where we stand. We should never settle. We need to constantly be moving forward.
In 2007, the New York Times reported that the average person sees more than 5,000 different advertisements a day, and one could only assume that, three years later, that number has risen.
It is impossible to escape from the realm of advertising, especially concerning the news media. Instead of searching for commercial-free media, we should train ourselves to recognize the difference between a commercial bias, and the news.
But, if anyone does know of a commercial-free news source, I would love to hear it. A half hour of the Daily Show is hardly sufficient.
Sarah Millard is a junior political science major. Her column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.