Why I read the news — and you should too.

The Great Bubble Machine - Matt Taibi's notoriously controversial takedown of Goldman Sachs.

            “The Great American Bubble Machine”              Matt Taibi’s controversial takedown of Goldman Sachs.

Jeff can’t be bothered.

I graduated from college at a time of great political and economic uncertainty. Two wars, congressional gridlock, and a global financial crisis had all taken their toll. For the first time, there was a sense that America was on the wrong side of history. Then I began paying attention to the news, poring over it in fact for hours at a time. What were the adults all talking about, now that I was one?

They were talking a lot about corruption. Matt Taibbi, it seemed, was raking up another example of corporate malfeasance every other week. And not just tax evasion. These were enormously complicated schemes involving unfathomable sums of money. After following several stories like this one I started to catch on. We weren’t simply on the wrong side of history. There were immensely powerful actors shaping history.

Steven Brill’s seminal exposé, “Bitter Pill,” drove the point home. It tells the story of how hospitals often engage in unconscionable price gouging, bankrupting the uninsured on even the most ordinary items. For one patient, gauze pads came in at $77 a box as part of his $348,000 hospital bill.

None of this is to say that individuals, or even individual institutions, can be blamed for the rash of challenges now facing this country. Nor is it to say that media outlets have the last word on the cause of the financial crisis or the integrity of the healthcare industry. But keeping abreast of the issues is essential to comprehending how the world works and why we are forced to operate under the conditions we do.

It is also essential to changing those conditions. If America is indeed in decline, it is not merely because it is subject to some inscrutable, inexorable historical process. History is made. And the first step to making history is to know how it develops out of the present.

I read the news because I want the “reality-based community” to be “history’s actors.”

Journalism is not just educational; it is political. Not because it can be partisan (though of course it often is) but because it can be empowering. If politics doesn’t excite you intellectually, if you have no sense of civic duty, then read the news to satisfy your own self-interest. Read it so you can practice informed consent when it comes to the decisions that will affect you and the future of this country the most.

The March 2013 issue of Time dedicated its entire feature section to Steven Brill's 24,105-word article. It was a first in magazine's 80-years history.

The March, 2013 issue of Time dedicated its entire feature section to Steven Brill’s 24,105-word article — a first in the magazine’s 90-plus years of circulation.

– D. Schwartz