Can we talk?
Seriously, when it comes to politics, can we talk? And listen? Thoughtfully?
If you’re reading this you probably follow political news and are reasonably media savvy. And how do you feel?
I don’t know about you but coming away from the 2012 presidential debates I was actually depressed. My take-away was no matter who wins in November, half the country may harbor a sense of helplessness and anger that the wrong side — the “bad guys” — won.
Does the general public get real information, a full spectrum of choices and the opportunity to arrive at solutions? Or has everything become clogged with hype, cant and spin? (Not to mention fear, distortion and distraction.)
Between culture wars, a partisan political process and media shortcomings there’s plenty of blame to go around.
If you accept the premise that this schism is toxic and unproductive, are there any solutions on the horizon?
Tippett recently featured an in-depth conversation between former Senator Pete Domenici (R) and long-time economist Alice Rivlin, a Democrat. The two made some interesting points, including the way community contributes to civility: if you see your political opponent as a decent person (instead of an alien from that different political planet) dialogue is more respectful and fruitful.
I have to say, I’ve reached the point where I needed to hear that respectful engagement is possible. If you want to feel hopeful again, maybe take the time to go listen to that episode archive.
Another area that needs some work (a lot of work?) is reporting. There are some big arguments out there right now. Is ‘he said/she said’ reporting good enough?
What about bias? Is true impartiality possible? Is that actually good? Would it be better if reporters or their employers just stated bias upfront and reported with that orientation in plain sight?
It’s reached the point of getting tied in knots about something you might think would be clear as day: truth and lies.
Is there such a thing as truth? Who gets to say what that is? When”truthiness” comes into question, is the press just a bunch of scribes – or should reporters also function as referees?
Andrea Seabrook may be a name you remember from her many years with NPR. (Note: Because she’s left NPR, her resume for that network is no longer found on the main NPR website. But it can still be found on different member station’s websites.)
Seabrook wants to escape some of the limitations in current mainstream reporting. As she explained in July on an appearance on NPR’s Talk of the Nation:
“One of the reasons that I am leaving to start a new project,” she tell NPR’s Jennifer Ludden, “is because of how broken Washington really is and how difficult it is to try to … tell our listeners what is going on with their government day to day.”
Her new project is something called DecodeDC. As the website says, it’s an attempt to “decipher Washington’s Byzantine language and procedure, sweeping away what doesn’t matter so you can focus on what does”.
Seabrook was a guest on CBC radio’s daily current affairs program “The Current” this past Friday, as that show looked at media coverage of the U.S. presidential race.
Guest host Jonathan Goldstein (host of CBC’s Wiretap) brought some extra zing to the topic, as he is a dual national, born of an American father and a Canadian mother. (Seabrook is interviewed in the second half of part two “The U.S. and US reporting on the election“. She’s on at 12:41 of the 23:49 segment.)
Seabrook says covering the debt-ceiling debate may have been what pushed her “over the edge” in terms of rejecting conventional reporting. In the interview she says what’s being reported, how it’s reported and even the framework of our choices is askew.
“We have been bamboozled into thinking that things are either blue or red – either Romney or Obama. The universe of ideas and legislation and thoughts and directions we could go in is much bigger than the narratives we are getting from the two campaigns…”
By the end of the interview Seabrook says her goal practically boils down to rescuing truth, justice and the American way!
It’s hard to know what DecodeDC will (or will not) contribute to understanding government and politics in new ways. But Seabrook is saying things that I suspect resonate with many, mixed with a dose of hope. Her new show’s elevator pitch goes like this: “Washington is broken. You are not.”
I bring these threads to the attention of In Box readers because I, too, think the status quo leaves much to be desired. I’m not sure how political dialog and national cohesion can be improved. Or how press coverage needs to change, but I think both stand in need of some re-tooling.
I’d like to think that NPR on the national level and NCPR on the local level both contribute to informing the public in good ways. But – to be totally honest – there’s room for improvement there too.
Do you think the current approach to reporting on politics and elections is adequate? What, if anything, would you like to see in terms of making that better?