We’re Being Played

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I thank my fellow BIZCATALYST 360˚ scribe, Carol Anderson for inspiring me with her brilliant post, “What Progress Have We Made?” Without her inspiration, what I share here would never have come to be.

I’ve been in a serious funk of late. Serious denotes anything that keeps me from writing, from thinking about writing, or from being enthused about the idea of writing. To an incorrigible and typically undaunted writer like me, that’s serious enough to be cause for equally serious concern.

Then the cause of that funk dawned on me: We’re being played.

The means by which — and the media from which — we get our information is broken. That information is largely untrue, largely unverified, hugely subjective, and shamelessly slanted. It’s sensationalist opiniotainment. It’s opinion, packaged as news, intended to titillate and, thereby, to entertain.

It’s intended to distract us from asking questions, from studying history, from applying common sense and empiricism, from looking at causes, rather than effects. Because we’re so polarized — our choices are to be this (at one polar end), to be that (at the polar opposite end), or to be vilified for being neither — it’s intended to pander to our predilections, regardless of the nature of those predilections. And it knows whereof it panders because those predilections are emotional, not intellectual, because they’re based on feelings, not on knowledge. We don’t know. We don’t have the vaguest desire to know. If we did, we’d ask questions, study history, apply common sense and empiricism, and look at causes, rather than effects.

But we believe we know. That’s even worse.

Opiniotainment is intended to play on the worst aspects of our human nature — our senses of envy, alienation, narcissism, indignation, slighting [insert your favorite ism here], group interests and identities, grievance, and victimization. If I’m not a victim of him, I’m a victim of somebody else. If I’m not a victim of this, I’m a victim of that. If I’m not getting what I think I deserve, there’ll be Hell to pay, especially if I have no desire to earn it. Look at that guy. He has it. I don’t care how he got it. I want it.

It’s intended to make us blame black people, to blame white people, to blame the people on the right, to blame the people on the left, to blame the police, to blame our leaders (who are supposed to be our representatives), to blame each other, to pander to lowest common denominators, and to do everything except stop — stop, think, examine, care, look for causes and cures, and talk to each other.

It’s not intended to unite us. If we united, opiniotainment would be out of business.

The only thing of which we can be absolutely sure is that, no matter what we’re enduring, it’s not our fault. It’s the other guy’s. It’s always the other guy’s. You can tell we’re being played by the very impossibility of that notion.


The best we can do at this point is tune-up because we’re being played like fiddles, kids.

P.S. I believe every word I wrote about the media above. I believe the veracity of every embittered sentiment I packed into the video I embedded above. The funk in which I wrote the post was stifling, debilitating, paralyzing. But I finally found the hope; the informed, balanced perspective; the peace; the logic; the reason; the intelligence; the calm; and the grace for which I was longing here:

I temporarily lost my faith. But it’s back. So am I.


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE


    • Thank you, Len. I have such a hard time with folks who can’t or don’t want to see that dependence on government is enslavement. I know that’s a dirty word. But it’s the condition toward which we’re all headed if we don’t wake up, refuse to tolerate the garbage we’re being fed, and hold our duly elected representatives accountable for representing the nation rationally and responsibly.

      If a politician’s chief aim is to get elected, his sight has to be short and narrow. Open-ended promises with closed-ended resources is a vicious circle of destruction. It’s alarming how much we’ve allowed to be destroyed in the 233 years since the Constitutional Convention.

      We need to be snapped out of our gullible complacency soon.

    • Mark – I actually agree with you on “dependence on government is enslavement,” but maybe for a slightly different reason. I see us “enslaved” because of government inaction and because our representatives are more beholden to monied interests than they are to us. We vote representatives into office to do things on our behalf. That’s the nature of a representative democracy. As you said, if a politician’s chief aim is merely to get elected and re-elected his sight is short and narrow. But what exactly is government accomplishing on our behalf? A massive tax break for people who don’t need it with little or no trickle down effect? We have been bought and paid for but our break expires whereas the business breaks never do.

      Is there any reason for Mitch McConnell to have the control he does? He sits on legislation that he doesn’t like or that his lobbyists don’t like. Is that not “enslaving” us?

      I also see dependence of another sort: to unbridled capitalism. Is it really in our best interests to let insurance companies have free-reign over health care? Is there any reason we should be paying the costs we do for insurance and especially for drugs? I am NOT advocating medicare for all, no way, but not finding a way to insure everyone merely pushes the illness can down the road. When someone who has no health insurance arrives at an emergency room, who pays for their coverage? We do. That’s one reason our costs are so high.

      Is it really in our best interests to eliminate regulations that protect the environment just so a few industries can benefit? Again, all government is doing is pushing the decision can down the road.

      Is it really in our best interests not to join with other nations to combat global problems?

      I don’t know what the answer is, but one idea that should be considered is term limits. We limit the president to two terms because we want to avoid sliding into a dictatorship, but we have senators and representatives who make careers out of “public (cough) service.” They’re held accountable – by the monied interests that contribute to their re-elections.

      I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t think Citizens United was a healthy decision.

      Thanks for listening.

    • Jeff, I intend to be listening to everything you say.

      I don’t think we have to get into the right/left debate here. All we have to do is agree that deliberately creating dependencies in entire segments of populations is sick and power-grubbing, especially when you’ve promised people in those segments anything they’ve wanted to hear — and they’ve believed you!

      We also agree that government is accomplishing nothing on our behalf. If we ever find the Constitution, people will sit in the House of Representatives for two years and get the hell out. They’ll sit in the Senate for six years and get the hell out. If it takes a Constitutional Amendment to mandate that, let’s do it.

      We will get exactly what we tolerate from our pals in Washington. And we’ll pay for all of it.

  1. Mark — I appreciate the intent of your article.

    I worked in the educational publishing space for 30+ years creating textbooks and technology for students and teachers. Our effort was, as one of our CEOs once described it “the artful blend of commerce and service.” The “artful” part was walking the fine line between what we knew we should say / had to say in our books – I worked for most of those years in the social studies dept – and what we knew we would sell. We were, after all, working for a for-profit enterprise. (Most school publishing enterprises are still for-profit.) I am proud that we never stooped to the depth that one of our competitors did by referring to slaves as “workers.” We actually pulled out of one large state adoption rather than compromise to a point where the truth would no longer have been the truth. I guess the offending passages in question would have been labeled “alternative facts.” Overall, I was proud of every book that carried my name.

    Most of the news media could also be looked at as the intended “artful blend” of commerce and service although I agree with you that some of the ones with which I’m familiar fail terribly in that regard. I have stopped watching one of the main cable networks because opinion and anger were paraded as “news.”

    Where I hesitate are with the phrases “largely” and “the media.” I am (sadly) not well versed in the content of EVERY newspaper, radio station, podcast, cable station, or other purported news outlet to know that they are “largely untrue, largely unverified, hugely subjective, and shamelessly slanted.” They might well be “largely.” I just lack the experience and knowledge to know for sure that they are those things.

    I worry, too, about the use of the terms “the media” or the “mainstream media” because they blur distinction. I read recently that “Fox News beats CNN, MSNBC combined in ratings,” but its “news personalities” label – nay decry! – other stations and papers as “mainstream.” One particular radio host has higher ratings still. Is he not then also “mainstream”? What then is “mainstream” but a pejorative label?

    I worry, too , about characterizations such as “major newspapers (the NY Times and the Washinton Post) to name a couple and many magazines that are feeding us the pablum of leftist socialism and inspiring social divide” that we don’t mention The Wall Street Journal or The National Review, the champions of unbridled capitalism and righteous conservatism. See, I can do it, too, but doing so doesn’t solve anything. I’m an avid reader of the NY Times, and I am anything but a leftist socialist! (Now I’m getting into your funk!)

    For me, topics like this always come down to education. One of the exercises I used to do as a history teacher involved studying bias and subjectivity. I don’t know if that’s still being taught, but it should be.

    Thank you, Mark, for giving us a lot to think about.

    • Jeff, here’s how you can tell a difference of opinion’s coming: “I appreciate the intent of your article.” 😉

      I view “mainstream” as readily accessible. It’s a product. It has a money-making agenda. And as Kenneth Burke said of ideology, each outlet hops around in particular ways:

      “An ‘ideology’ is like a spirit taking up its abode in a body: it makes that body hop around in certain ways: and that same body would have hopped around in different ways had a different ideology happened to inhabit it.”

      Some lean right. Most left. None of them has a vested interest in objective reporting, as opposed to opining. Ken Vincent, the guy who wrote this — “major newspapers (the NY Times and the Washington Post) to name a couple and many magazines that are feeding us the pablum of leftist socialism and inspiring social divide” — has his own ideological bent. It doesn’t matter to me what it is.

      One of my favorite recent occurrences was engaging a gentleman who’s as ideological as anyone I’ve come across in a long time in an email exchange. In response to my sharing Kenneth Burke’s quote with him, he wrote, “I don’t have an ideology,” doing nothing so much as proving Burke’s point.

      As Grandpa O’Brien loved to say in celebration of our differences, “That’s what makes horse racing.” I just wish we’d all dig a little more deeply in search of causes, rather than allowing ourselves to be lathered up by sensationally slanted presentations of agenda-driven opinions.

      I’m grateful to you for reading my post for investing so much time in such thoughtful comments.

      Thank you, my friend.

    • A difference in opinion, but only in degree. I agree wholeheartedly that some elements of the media are as you describe. I just can’t say for sure that they all are.

      Trump is also a “mainstream” media “mogul.” He has 81,000,000 followers. And here I agree with you: his “Tweets” are largely untrue, largely unverified, hugely subjective, and shamelessly slanted. I write this because there are those who decry the ‘blue” mainstream media, but can’t see it in what they read or listen to.

      I’m with you on this: “I just wish we’d all dig a little more deeply in search of causes,” but that, my friend, is a dark and ugly place.

  2. Thanks, Mark.

    We have embraced blame and we own the habit. How about we all turn the tables on this habit and NEVER start (or finish) with blame? If we want to blame the media, that’s still blame. Maybe we could all purchase a blame alarm that would make a tiny little, gentle sound to remind us that if we feed blame, we’re not pushing forward, we’re only pushing back. Each of us can disconnect the attitudes, biases, and language of blame and instead only focus on solutions, right?

    Blame and fault-finding are never generative.

    Be good. And well.


    • Sorry, Mac. I know it’s blaming. And I can never decide: Should we blame the media? Or should we blame the people who take its slanted (in both directions), selective, opinion-mongering as face-value gospel?

      I also imagine that waking people up to the inflammatory nonsense for which they’re falling IS pushing forward. If we’re seeking truth, rather than accepting baiting of all kinds, aren’t we furthering something?

      I sure as hell hope so.

      Thank you for chiming in.

  3. Thank you for this Mark! As a seeker of the truth, I appreciate you calling out the MSM. When I went to school long ago, I thought, stupid me, that journalists were supposed to report the facts and allow the reader to discern. Now we cannot differentiate the opinion-makers from the journalists. Again, stupid me, they are one of a kind. Sadly, many people believe everything they hear without considering another side. I am glad you are back. Keep writing!💖

    • Thank you, Darlene. This one was a little tougher than most. But nobody said it would be easy.

      I love the expression, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” The things worth standing for are the ones worth working at.

      If we can keep our common sense, we have hope of resurrecting empiricism and objectivity. And we have to keep asking questions.

      I very much appreciate your comments and our connection.

  4. Mark,
    This piece is incredible, and I am so glad not only that you wrote it but also that it is on the BC platform. I read each word slowly and with a resounding uh, huh. I nodded my head, I stopped, reread, and let the thoughts and videos that you share here percolate.

    I have felt heavy, out of sorts, and sad for so many things. Like you, I too lose faith. But I am always happy to get it back – and with a renewed perspective. This article did that for me, as well as something that I came upon yesterday that I will share with you.

    I went out for my morning run, and on my way home, I pass our little congregational church on the street where I live. I noticed that the sign in front of the church had changed. Instead of announcements, it merely said these words: Respect. Listen. Learn. It stopped me in my tracks, and the impact of the words moved me. And I thought, well, how about that? Those three words are nutrition – essential vitamins—a place to start. They are words that will not leave me anytime soon, not do I wish for them to depart. Instead, I want to embrace them lovingly and learn from them.

    So, today, I want to thank you for sharing something that I suspect wasn’t easy, but I can feel the release from the depth of your narrative. Today, I respect, listen to, and learn from you.

    I refrain from watching or reading too much news, and I take much of it with a grain of salt because I believe there is always more to the story. And we get a thinly sliced view. I’m a researcher, and I love to dig until I find more data, details, cases, demographics, and statistics to be able to make an informed and educated decision about things. What we face as a country, as a people, is heavy and complicated. The answers are not easy, nor should they be. But we owe it to ourselves and others to respect, listen, and learn. Then, we can begin to take steps, to have a difficult conversation, or to enact and engage in change.

    Well done, Mark. I’m so glad that you are back.

    • Thank you so much, Laura. It was a long haul and a close shave. But I think I’m working through it.

      If this is at all possible, I don’t think I lose faith. But I do feel like I lose hope sometimes. I thinks it’s because I know everything’s cyclical. As far as the pendulum swings today, it’ll swing back as far tomorrow. So, I know everything will eventually work out. But my hope flags when I realize how long it takes to realize WHY the pendulum has to swing back. And what it costs while we’re waiting is enormous.

      Thank you for sharing the story about the church sign. I’m trying to take those words to heart, especially Learn.

      I’m glad I’m back to. And I’m happy you’re here. Thank you

    • Mark,
      As long as we are working through it, we are doing something. It’s a sign we can move forward in a way that works for us and what we are going through and processing. I think it is healthy to recognize and acknowledge these things, and I am glad that you opted to share it with us. Thank you for having the courage to do so.

      I remember a time when I lost both hope and faith. We had a terrible breakup, and I was in a dark space. Thankfully, we reunited, and I am grateful each day for the things I learned when we were apart. I wrote about it, but I don’t recall if it is published here. If not, maybe I’ll submit it.

      Keep on keeping on, Mark. Your voice matters and I learn from it every time I read one of your stories.

    • Thank you, Laura. All I really want is for all of us to believe in ourselves. And part of that self-faith, at least to me, is an unwillingness to take anything at face value, as presented. If we’re not constantly asking, “Why?” we’re settling.

      Nothing was ever cured by treating its symptoms.

  5. Mark: You speak the truth about the media and those behind the curtain that control the media. It isn’t just the major TV networks either. It includes major newspapers (the NY Times and the Washinton Post) to name a couple and many magazines that are feeding us the pablum of leftist socialism and inspiring social divide.

    • Thank you, Ken. As soon as we pull objectivity off the list of dying arts (which also includes empiricism and common sense), we might get back to some semblance of sanity.

      As someone once said to me, “If ya don’t have dreams, all ya have is nightmares.”

  6. Last night I had the pleasure of being a part of a Twitter chat that was hosted by the awesome and wonderful Kimberly Davis, she of “Brave Leadership” fame and frequent and eloquent contributor here. During several of the exchanges, all I could do was to give a virtual high five, the equivalent of a virtual standing ovation; when someone said something that I really liked, I tweeted “PREACH.” Let’s make believe that happened just now. That was a long way to get to this: I totally agree. I am so sick of having narratives preached at me. It is helping my reading habits a tad. Like you, it has sucked a lot of my desire to write. I wish it were not so, but in this moment I feel so unqualified to talk about anything, as my perspective may not be pure enough for those reading. I am always nuanced, and puritanism is the flavor of the moment.

    Reading what I just wrote, I may have hit a vein of thought worthy of mining. Thank you for this, my friend. These are the times that try people’s convictions. I’m about to become a grandfather, and it’s difficult not to grieve for the world that child will inherit. As much as we need to go about changing it and making it livable, sometimes it does feel like it’s been sullied beyond repair. We do have a support group, do we not?

    In the past, I have emerged from these reveries by facing them in written form. It might take that again.

    • Four responses, Tom: (1) Thank you. (2) The Constitution. (3) Question everything. (4) Yes, write. Please, write. We need your voice.

      I’m grateful for our connection, my friend.

  7. Mark, I’m glad you are back.
    You are not alone in your frustrations and we all have times where we just need to step back and realize the play for what it is. All the actors want to make an impact, the audience will be affected. Using your intellect enables you to realize how good the acting really is. We need some commercials in life to step back and when we are ready. Say something… or write it.
    Great video message.
    The second one from YouTube was not one available to me in this country… as the link advised …go figure🤷‍♀️
    Thank you for this read my friend!

    • It’s my pleasure, Carol. I owe you one for the inspiration. I wouldn’t want this to get out, so I’d never put it in writing. But I’ve had a few other inspirations, which I’m working on. 🤫 With any luck, they’ll help you out of your funk.

      Thank you for your comments.

  8. When I was a Chief Learning Officer, I railed against the concept of “edutainment” because it missed the key points of how adults [really] learn.

    Love the concept of “opioniontainment.” Same problem as edutainment – it takes a complex issue and makes it sound simple.

    Glad you got out of your funk. I’m waiting….