I work to have a positive attitude.

That doesn't imply that I am a naturally negative person, but I am influenced by news and news is usually negative. My first broadcasting job was at WKY Radio and TV, in Oklahoma City. The anchorman for the six and 10 newscasts was a dry, wry fellow who knew news when he saw it, and resisted the blow- dried brains and happy talk that were invading the airwaves in the 1970s. One afternoon, in the daily meeting to determine which stories would run that evening, he said, "If you have a flat tire, you don't get out and look at the three good ones."

If you sit in a group of people and let them tell you what's top of mind, their stories will have a negative slant. We view good news as a final outcome of a situation that did not end in disaster. It is natural to view unfolding events as having the possibility of a bad outcome.

The recent election comes to mind. My first thoughts, after hearing that Florida was too close for either candidate to be awarded victory, were that the recount would be unfairly skewed by partisan politics. Then, I moved to the concern that the state and nation would divide along ideological and racial lines and, finally, that the system might break down and we could face a constitutional challenge. That is as far as it went for me, but others were predicting that this election would be the last of its kind and Florida may have to declare marshal law to keep riots from destroying the cities.

Whoa, how does a cascade like that get started? It begins with people who have a victim mentality and a long-term desire to "get even" with those who wronged them. White men are most likely to have this bias. Jobs that were once their exclusive domain have been lost to women and minorities. The fact that immigrants and women work harder and smarter, and are also willing to work cheaper, is irrelevant to the person who believes he was denied his birthright. Over time, it can manifest into a desire to forcefully take back what was yours. Situations like Y2K and the Florida recount bring out these feelings in those who want a revolution to put everyone back in their proper place.

I always am concerned with "cults" and their potential to cause a few people to take extreme action against the rest of us. Most people are naturally resistant to being taken in by a shyster, but, at some point in life, there is a vulnerability to being captured by the words of a televangelist, a talk show host or a militant. It starts with a claim that is inaccurate. "The end of the world is coming," "I hold the key to the Seven Seals" or "The Mason's are trying to take over the country." We have heard all three in the past decade. "You're crazy" is the response most of us give, but a few turn toward the message and are taken in by the supplier of a manipulated source of information. Eventually, a good cult member will believe anything he is told by the leader and reject all information that conflicts with the core belief to the point of following the leader to certain death.

Since I am a talk show host, you may think this is an elaborate plan to bring you into my cult. Please remember, I am from Oklahoma and not bright enough to fool anyone for long and, as rural a American, you pride yourself in being independent of anyone's direct control.

However, rural Americans are not immune to cult thinking. Where do most of these groups thrive--rural America. The Posse Comitatus and the American Agriculture Movement had origins in western Kansas and eastern Colorado and both had members who were radical enough to try to forces a collapse of our system of government. Rural communities are mostly white and male dominated. Farming and ranching have been adversely affected by big government, big business and minorities. Your mind could be fertile ground for the right message.

Now that I have scared you, here is how to insulate yourself from the emotional impact of the news that you hear. Don't believe it. Determine what is true and what is speculation with your own sense of logic and compare one source against another. Eric Severid, a long time CBS newsman, said, "News at first release is usually 50% wrong." He went on to explain that the desire of news gathering agencies to "scoop" their competition causes a story to be filed as soon as possible, therefore without facts that come to light later. Severid's theory is that news corrects itself until all the facts are out and it is no longer news. In other words, it usually has a happier ending than was expected and we accept the final outcome.

Advances in communications have made it possible for rural people to have as much access to news and information as a person living in New York City. I hope you choose to use it to your advantage and that it does not overwhelm you or depress you. Remember and follow the ages-old phrase: "The truth can set you free."--kr.

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