TV News and Depression: How I Learned To Turn It Off

by Bill Brenner on April 21, 2013

This week’s news coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings and the aftermath only hardened the feelings I express below. I have nothing but contempt for the big three: CNN, Fox and MSNBC. Local news did a far more admirable job covering this tragedy.


I find myself increasingly outraged at what I see on the TV news channels lately. I’m not talking about the news itself, but the way it’s presented with loud graphics, dramatic music and louder newscasters.

To watch CNN, Fox News, MSNBC or any number of local news affiliates is to be rattled. And, in fact, before I learned to turn it off, I couldn’t take my eyes away. It took an already depressed, out-of-control person and made him three times worse.

I should probably laugh it off and move on. But the fact of the matter is that this stuff used to leave me a crippled mess.

When you have an out-of-control case of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), you latch onto all the things you can’t control and worry about them nonstop. Nothing feeds that devil like the cable news networks. I’ve written before about the anxiety and fear I used to have over current events. I would think about all the things going on in the world over and over again, until it left me physically ill. I personally wanted to set everything right and control the shape of events, which of course is delusional, dangerous thinking.

Right after 9-11 I realized the obsession had taken a much darker, deeper tone. This time, I had the Internet as well as the TV networks to fill me with horror. Everyone was filled with horror on 9-11, obviously, but while others were able to go about their business in a depressed haze, I froze. Two weeks after the event, I refused to get on a plane to go to a wedding in Arizona. Everyone was afraid to fly at that point, but I let my fear own me. It’s one of my big regrets.

Part of the problem was my inability to take my eyes off the news. To do so for a five-hour plane ride was unthinkable. To not know what was going on for five hours? Holy shit. If I don’t know about it, I can’t control it!

I really used to think like that.

The start of the War on Terror brought out the rock-bottom worst in TV news. Every possible danger, no matter how unsupported by facts, was flashed on the screen with the urgency of imminent doom. I remember how Wolf Blitzer of CNN used the word “alarming” just about every night as the analysts discussed the hundred different ways the terrorists could really kick us in the balls next time:

— Releasing smallpox back into the air

–Detonating a nuclear device in front of the White House

–Diving planes into nuclear power plants.

In a time when the right answer would have been to hold our heads up and show the bad guys we don’t hide in the face of danger, this stuff brought out the worst in us, especially an already emotionally sick guy like me.

It didn’t have to be matters of war and peace, either.

In the weeks leading up to the 2004 presidential election, all the TV news commentators could talk about was the last election and how there was growing fear that a repeat of the electoral deadlock of 2000 would repeat itself.

Analysts talked about all the glitches that could happen as if they were watching a knife go into their chest. Already consumed by fear and anxiety, I freaked over this, too.

A year later, right after Hurricane Katrina hit, TV news stations felt the need to go over every conceivable disaster that might wipe us out next: Bird flu, nuclear plant meltdowns, earthquakes and other unpredictable events. It made a mess of me.

I can’t pinpoint the exact period where I decided this stuff no longer had meaning to me, but I think it was around the time I started taking the right medication for OCD in early 2007.

All of the sudden, I didn’t care as much about watching the news. I simply lost interest. And I’ve been a lot happier as a result.

The timing may be a coincidence. My Faith also started to deepen around that time, and the more I learned to trust God and let go of the things I couldn’t control, the more meaningless CNN’s loudness became.

Today, I’m as addicted to the Internet as I used to be to the TV. But I don’t really watch the news online. I’ll quickly glance over the headlines and maybe stick around if a political analysis intrigues me enough. But I’m much more likely to get sucked into all the music videos available on YouTube or who is saying what on Facebook and Twitter. That too is something I know I need to be careful of, but it’s fair to say that that stuff doesn’t send me into shock and panic like CNN and Fox used to.

Somewhere along the way, as I watched news reports of bomb explosions and natural calamities half a world away, I looked up and realized everything outside my living room window was tranquil and uneventful.

I’ve operated on that mindset ever since.

Call me apathetic or ignorant. Tell me I’m in denial.

All I can tell you is that things in the world look much different to me now than they did just a few short years ago.

And though I consumed more news this past week than I have in a long time, I still managed to walk away quite a bit. That’s probably why I’m able to type this without my hands shaking.


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

io_saturnalia April 27, 2011 at 8:45 am

Nice post and mood music selection (shades of Gil Scott Heron).

I still enjoy the news, but lately I’ve been switching channels when they start covering the wars, terrorism or domestic crime and, during my unemployment, it has helped sustain my mood immeasurably.

Similarly, I’m working on managing my Web and social media interaction, attempting to segregate it to a certain hour a day or two. I find that if I don’t start writing, for example, before I check e-mail, the day is lost.

Such segmentation isn’t possible for everyone, perhaps, but I’m finding that the less “connected” I am, the more truly connected I am to the things that make life worthwhile.

Of course, I could just be in denial.

colleen miles December 31, 2011 at 6:42 am

I feel exactly the same, and take the back lash of dirty looks from friends when I stop them and say, Im sorry, but I dont watch tv so I have no idea what your talkin about. I do feel left out and a bit stupid, but hey Im happy and not worried about how thats goingto affect me.

You said: When you have an out of control case of OCD, you latch onto things you cant control…That sent chills down my back because that was my marriage and i was the object that he obsessed over and couldnt control. Id love to hear how other OCD marriages work?

Michael April 7, 2012 at 12:24 pm

I became a news junkie on 9/11. I had just gotten home from working 3rd shift and was half asleep when it happened. I was in such a state of shock, I stayed awake all day watching as events unfolded. I called in sick that night.

Since then I was getting my fix all the time. The war happened, and being from a military family, I was enthralled. But your right, it has changed. I cannot stand to watch the news anymore. Like you, I am online all the time now and choose what news I want to read about. I am quite fond of anything in the science and space sections.

Now with the politics dominating every news show, it just makes me ill. Democrat or Republican, it doesn’t matter who is talking, is lying. End of story. It makes me sick to hear these talking heads promise, degrade and argue over what should be a straight forward process. It is all a show and I am walking out of the theater. I would really like my money back as well.

Dave Marcus April 21, 2013 at 11:45 am

Mainstream news has become akin to gladiatorial entertainment. The job of today’s mainstream news is not the dissemination of either information or even data, rather its goal is to get you to simply watch it.

I moved on from it long ago.

Matt Hines April 21, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Good points all, tip to Bill of course and metal man Marcus. Being at one time a fourth generation journalist, and third or fourth gen PR type of some nature, this stuff is undeniably in my bones. Like many of you who grew up in a house where 2-4 entire newspapers were consumed daily and Sundays were given over almost entirely to the big weekly editions, the only TV programs watched religiously in ours were the local and network news hours, supplemented by 60 Minutes (that damn stopwatch was my Sunday night bedtime knell forever!), meet the Press and other such fare. But to Bill’s point, the news has changed. And look at ourselves, many of us the purveyors of the latest breaking malware attacks and cyber threats and omg we’re screwed headlines… egads… But the readers eyebs dont lie, if it bleeds it leads! Online media and blogging have only intensified this.

The problem as I see it is one that sounds horribly intensely obnoxious/elitist/etc towxpress as so, and certainly seems unfair and rather unamerican… But, in addition to catering to advertisers far too much and a viewership that is increasingly less literate… Todays news programmers have allowed themselves to care too much about what the viewers want to see. Truth. Back in the good old Walter Cronkite days we didnt see bloody images from the field of battle, not a chance. we saw enough to know or surmise how bad things were, it just wasn’t proper to show the bloody reality as we do today. Should we really wonder why our society has become so starkly
violent as personified by this. … Now we see everything… That’s what people demand! But do they really?

I know I strike a sort of convenient situational ethic in saying so but, it really should be controlled more tightly and thoughtfully by experienced and considerate editors and producers, and networks should pride themselves on their ability to tell the story correctly and objectively without racing to the bottom of the barrel and showing the most freakish graphic footage. It can be done, and even broadcast live. When I found myself I front of the TV Monday consuming footage of a woman with a piece of cyclone fencing impaled in her head, the shock palpable on the faves of the first responders themselves as they arrived I definitely found myself in a place where I had to say, ok, as much as part of my brain hungers for this level of coverage, I don’t need to see it to appreciate the situation. Should it perhaps be made available somewhere for consumption by those who MUST see it, so that a record of the pure and shocking unedited truth is availabqle, just as it surely was in WW2 or Vietnam or all the other terrible conflicts we cared so much about collectively but did not see in live resplendent color in our living rooms (consider that only recently could one see footage of trly gruesome ww2 era battle footage, available via latenight TV infomercial for the very first time!).

Some in the news biz would surely argue that I’ve betrayed the entire practice by saying so, that the people have a right to know, to tell the real story in only the way live footage can tell us… But that’s bullshit. It’s grandstanding and going their for shock value, often done so quite politically (and I am an anti war blue state former reporter who loathes Fox fwiw)… But as a news media industry there has to be a consensus to draw the line somewhere and use a more befitting filter, by editing more expertly and thoughtfully, and deciding how to tell the story the right way. In some ways we give the terrorist bomber or 9-11 hijacker or movie theater mass killer just what they want by showing every blood curdling horrific minute that we can. We can show enough, and not too much, and those who take it too far should face indictment in the court of public appeal in the form of non viewership… As much as peoe want to see something, that doesn’t mean they should, and whether or not they can find it anywhere or it is broadcast live to every household in the nation with a television are two very different concepts. If people choose to seek out the grist, fine, let them do so online, but we allow the fear of losing ad views and profits to cable or the web or the mobile device so much that we’ve let it destroy journalistic mores and integrity…

In a sort of ironic, self realizing and somewhat transparent example I think back to the manner in which the industry decided as a whole not to broadcast the footage of the beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl… And as much as some clamored for the images to be shown the producers just couldn’t bring it upon themselves to let this happen… I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it was one of their own involved but truthfully we don’t usually see anything of this caliber on open airwaves, it’s just too much no matter who is involved.

For those who absolutely ha to see for themselves there was Ogrish and the like but I’m sure anyone who like myself stupidly thought they needed to consume this content surely thought better of it once they had.

It’s a fine line, we want to see the story told as quickly and accurately as possible, with the correct degree of import, and every ounce of realistic presence… authority… tone… whatever you might call it.

But we really need to rethink where we’ve ended up, the bar keeps being lowered and there isn’t much room left for some of these screaming idiots on cable, often copied by the networks to stay in the fight for ad revenues…

Or, as I and many others I know will free say, if you truly want to see the best coverage of US news, delivered most objective and appropriately, spin your dial over to…

That’s right, the BBC. They just do it better, it’s true.

God save Roger Mudd and curse 8pm school night Sunday bedtimes.

Btw, I hope the BPD snuck in a few nice stomps to the head of that little maggot who lived to be captured. Assuming the reports to be accurate, which they seem to be… I’d postulate the best place for his older brother is at the bottom of the harbor along with toxic sludge and so much other human waste… But this other dude, lets punish him for the rest of his life, thoroughly, and repeatedly.

Just don’t show it on the 6 or even the 11.

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