Immediately after the election, there was a spate of reports about Clinton voters buying newspaper and magazine subscriptions as a way to keep an eye on Trump. Now, it looks like the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction—with the elite press, amusingly, offering readers advice on how to tune out.
A New York Times Magazine travel article about Hawaii carries a subheadline describing the journey as "a desperate bid to escape the news." The Times Sunday etiquette column led with a question from a reader who wrote in a letter that began, "Lately I've been feeling depressed about the news, so I decided to avoid it." The Times technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo, wrote a column about how he spent an entire week in which he "didn't read, watch or listen to a single story about anything having to do with our 45th president."
A Times shopping column about a store that sells men's pajamas at prices starting at $266 a pair includes this complaint from the work-from-home journalist who wrote it: "the house no longer feels like such a safe space. There are CNN and all the other news channels on my TV, alerts from The New York Times and The Washington Post on my phone screen. Anxiety is persistent."
And the president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur Brooks, wrote a New York Times op-ed piece under the headline, "Depressed By Politics? Just Let Go." It said, "let's be honest: Many of us consume political news and commentary in a compulsive, concupiscent sort of way, voluntarily subjecting ourselves to gratuitous information and stimuli, particularly on social media. The unhappiness results speak for themselves."
It all amounts to a statement about journalism today. The press has gotten away from its traditional job of just telling readers what the news is. Its new, self-appointed role involves advising people how they should feel about the news and how to get away from it.
In so doing, the Times discloses a certain set of assumptions about the ideological uniformity of its own readership.
After all, there may have been some Americans who could have used all this advice about dealing with news-related anxiety and depression back during the Obama administration. It was then that the president was raising taxes on job-creators, increasing the national debt, adding mountains of additional regulations on American businesses, stalling or blocking the approval of new oil and gas pipelines, and failing to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq. It was then that the president was straining America's relations with Israel in order to provide tens of billions of dollars to the terror-sponsoring, dissident-torturing regime in Iran. It was during the Obama administration that the headlines seemed full of videos of ISIS beheading American captives.
Now Obama is gone. Instead there's a president in power, Donald Trump, who says he is interested in cutting taxes (at least the ones that aren't tariffs or "border adjustment" taxes), repealing ObamaCare, loosening job-killing regulations, allowing more energy exploration, eliminating wasteful government spending, and expanding school choice. This president says he wants to rebuild relations with Israel. He's nominated a Supreme Court justice who seems to revere the Constitution. There are plenty of Americans out there who aren't depressed, unhappy, anxious, or unhappy about this. Those Americans—tens of millions of them voted for Trump—are elated.
Perhaps the Times is projecting. President Trump is fond of tweeting about the "failing" New York Times. If you're an editor or even a writer at a place that recently announced plans to employ "fewer editors," anxiety, depression, unhappiness, desperation, and a desire to escape might not be entirely irrational responses.
The idea that turning off the news, or reading less of it, is the road to happiness is self-defeating for news organizations, at least from a business perspective. It's also self-centered. People with anxiety and depression often require real mental health treatment, not just a mere adjustment in their news consumption habits.
Short of that, here's another possible cure for Trump-related news blues: reallocate reading time to some news outlet that's less reflexively left wing than the Times is. That is, admittedly, a low bar, but there it is.
Politicians inevitably disappoint. But one way to feel less worried about the news might just be exposure to at least the remote possibility that policy shifts in the direction of the Republican agenda might actually be good for America and its citizens.