A year ago, I was scrolling through my news feed when I came across a bizarre story that caught my eye (in a bad sense). A businessmen in Montana was on the campaign trail during a special interim election when he was approached by a reporter from a British newspaper. The man wanted answers from the GOP candidate about his stance on Healthcare, the hot-button issue of the time. But the candidate avoided the question (and the reporter) and went into a separate room to prepare for a TV interview with the local Fox News station.
The determined reporter followed the candidate, slipped into the room and once again confronted him with his question. The candidate was not amused, and rather than call security, he took matters into his own hands. Literally. Quoting the Fox News reporters who witnessed the incident, the candidate then “grabbed [the reporter] by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.”
When I shared this story on social media, a few of my friends wouldn’t believe it. “Check your story,” they told me. It had to be fake news. It wasn’t. The candidate pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, paid a fine…..and went on to win the election. The candidate, who is now seeking re-election, was recently praised by Pres. Trump who said “any guy who can do a body slam, he is my type!” (Trump may have even hinted as much when he tweeted this controversial GIF, less than a month after the incident.)
Since then, tensions have only escalated. The “Fake News Media” has been coined by our President as “the enemy of the American People“. And whether or not you agree with with his statement, you can’t deny that a lot of people have taken his words to heart.
Over the past few years, more and more reporters have been harassed on the job. They’ve noticed an uptick in death threats. In June, a gunman burst into a local newsroom in Annapolis, MD and opened fire on reporters. And just last week, a bomb was delivered to CNN headquarters.
Now obviously I realize most people are not the type to send a bomb to a news station just because they don’t like what they hear. That being said, I wanted to share a couple things that we should all keep in mind when it comes to the media.
1) Everybody has an agenda
I have to get this one out of the way first. One of the biggest concerns I hear about the media is that they have a “hidden agenda”. Let’s get this straight. EVERYBODY has an agenda.
No matter how “objective” we as human beings try to be, there will always come a point where our own experiences, opinions, perspectives, positions, etc. will somehow influence/”bias” our words and actions. It may be subtle; it may seem inconsequential, but it’s there.
Now this insight might not sound like a good a thing, but once you get your head around it, it’s actually not as scary as it sounds. Human beings aren’t void, emotionless, or 100% objective so, ergo, the media (which is ran by humans) isn’t either — and neither — for that matter— are you, the media consumer. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just something you should keep in mind/consider whenever you’re watching or reading a news source.
2) Different Opinions are part of Democracy
Believe it or not, having constant contact with dissident opinions (ideas that are “outside of the norm” or that don’t exactly align with your point of view) is a sign of a healthy democracy. It means that people feel comfortable expressing themselves and drawing public attention to issues/concerns that they might not otherwise feel comfortable talking about (poverty, racial injustice, sexual assault, etc.). Drawing these concerns into the open creates dialogue that can hopefully lead to mutual understanding and an eventual solution.
However, the opposite is true of suppressing dissenting opinions. When outside groups feel uncomfortable expressing themselves in the public square (or when they simply don’t want to interact with differing opinions), they can often enter what media theorists call an echo chamber. An echo chamber is a closed community such as a blog, chatroom, or Facebook group where members only interact with individuals who share the same values and opinions. While echo chambers appear to provide mutual understanding and support, they also can promote intolerance, misunderstanding, and — in extreme cases — acts of violence (such as the recent shootings at a Synagogue in Pittsburgh this past weekend).
3) Don’t Judge a Book By It’s Cover
You’ve probably heard the saying “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover”. This principle applies to the media really well. Imagine that each article you read or video you watch is like a different author trying to put an image and a title to a much larger issue/story. The image may be compelling and the title may capture some general ideas from the story; but no matter how you spin it, there will always be something missing. Some hidden emotion or motivation that the article doesn’t quite capture. And the only way for you to uncover those hidden elements is to go beyond the cover, crack open the book and start reading.
You can start by looking for other articles or sources that cover the same topic. Each article will give you new details that may help you better understand the issue/story. It’ll also allow you to compare the differences and similarities between each article.
4) Put Down The Phone and Talk to People
This probably can’t be emphasized enough. So much of the toxic rhetoric, intolerance and increasing violence in society, today, stems from our inability to put down our phones, walk outside of our own personal “echo chambers”, and have personal interactions with someone who thinks differently than we do — whether that be a Trump supporter, a Gay Rights activist, a Neo-Nazi, a Black Lives Matter protester, a Tea Party member or a Feminist.
You don’t have to agree with them. You don’t need to be their friend. You don’t even have to like them (although those things might help). You just have to be curious and willing to learn. Try and get to know them. Ask them what they like to do and why they think/believe the way they do. As you do so, you’ll come to understand them (and the issue) in a more-perfect, all-encompassing light.
Until you make the move to go beyond your one-sided, virtual news feed, and see people for what they truly are — not just a hashtag or a negative mention from a news article, but a living, breathing person with emotions, challenges, and personal experiences—you will remain trapped in your own personal “echo chamber”; shut off from the big picture of what’s really going on in the world — all because your own version of incomplete or subjective “Fake News” was more convenient. And while that may not be the same thing as body-slamming a reporter, it is a step (albeit a very small one) in that direction.