It’s been several weeks since I’ve pulled up CNN on my tablet for my breakfast of morning news--until this morning. I quickly remembered why I had stopped reading it. It was overflowing with sensationalism and LOUD urgency. Nearly every article contained a title or sub-title about some new outrageous soundbite or verbal swipe or crazy decision someone had made.
I just wanted to read the news.
Two days ago I listened to a Braver Angels podcast of an interview with two Trump-supporters who had attended the January 6 insurrection of the U.S. Capital. Neither Chrissy nor Tom had ever been to a Trump rally before. Both were in their mid-30’s-40’s, from Pennsylvania, and did not know each other before the event. Chrissy traveled to the Rally to be encouraged after months of isolation with COVID while Tom wanted to “be part of something historic.” They both came across as people who could be your next-door neighbors.
As they recounted their personal stories of what they saw and experienced that day (which was very different from the news broadcasts that I watched) I wanted to interrupt at times, argue with them, or correct what I thought were some inaccuracies in their perceptions. But I couldn’t. I was listening to them on a podcast. Oh yah. So, I just listened.
Listening to their stories over the course of an hour confirmed for me once again something that I learned early in my ministry: the value of listening. While I think I’m pretty good at listening, there are times, especially when I’m having a conversation around politics, that I find myself wanting to jump in and argue, or correct, or pull my hair out in exasperation! And sometimes I do (except for the pulling out of my hair). But I had to remind myself that this was their story. Their perspective. Their experience. Their reality. I couldn’t really argue with what they experienced or saw. It was what it was: their story.
Near the end of the interview Tom said something that struck me. He was reflecting on why we as fellow citizens seem so polarized from each other, even within families. He pointed to the media as one source of the problem. And he had a solution: stop reading it. Stop watching it. Stop listening to it. Since he gets a lot of his news from Fox, he was talking particularly about Fox. He made a plea to his listening audience to be much more aware of what we read, listen or watch, because it can influence us in such negative directions. On that issue I found myself in complete agreement with him and would love to build a giant platform with a first-rate sound system upon which he could “preach” that message to the millions of ordinary, average “Joes” and “Janes” in every corner of our nation who are drugged-out on Fox News. And CNN. And MSNBC. And all the other extremely partisan “news” sources out there.
Remember the axiom from computer programmers: “Garbage in, Garbage out?”
The same is true for the partisan “news” that we read, watch or listen to. Why--when we read, watch or listen to a steady diet of sensationalism, vitriol, disrespect toward others or deeply partisan perspectives that continually blame the “other side”—would we think that our mental health, the views that we hold of our country, and our attitude toward our fellow citizens would somehow be any different?