}

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

The news should make your uncomfortable


In the video above, MSNBC’s Katy Tur talks to supporters of the current occupant of the White House outside one of his many campaign rallies, this one in Macon, Georgia. There’s nothing in it that will surprise anyone—until her closing comments, where she tells viewers: “[MSNBC is] not your safe space”.

The USA’s hyperpartisan reality is now so deep and bitter that the two sides aren’t even listening to each other. Worse, they actively reject the other side without even even listening to them. Abraham Lincoln famously said about the issue of slavery that “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. That’s always been self-evidently true, but never more so than when the country is deeply and bitterly divided as it was then, and as it is right now.

I get it: Sometimes we really do need to be within our own bubbles to heal from the things that anger, disgust, frighten, or outrage us. We need to hear from people who share not just our political ideology, but also our values. But if we live full-time in that bubble we can never find out what common ground—what shared values—we may possibly have with people with whom we disagree. If we live full-time in our respective bubbles, we will never have our assumptions and beliefs challenged, so we can never be sure that they’re sound and rational. Feeling they are doesn’t make it true.

Which is why it’s so important to consider the other side’s views, and not assume their media is “lying” just because someone in our bubble told us they are: We need to check it out for ourselves. I’ve written several times about the methods I use to evaluate news stories, regardless of the topic or the ideology of the source. The method used isn’t important, it’s that it’s possible to objectively evaluate the truthfulness of what is reported without relying on a gut reaction—OR our bubble.

In evaluating news, one terrible approach is to “pray about it, think about it, if it sounds right, it is right.” That’s looking only within one’s own bubble. So is decrying MSNBC talking to Republicans, and for the same reason. One cannot challenge one’s own assumptions or verify a news source by staying within one’s bubble. It’s impossible. As Katy Tur says at the end of her piece, “If everything you read or watch gives you comfort, you’re doing it wrong.”

We all want to accept what those in our bubble tell us. That’s understandable. However, we can remain in our bubble and still venture out to check things for ourselves. Nuclear arms reduction negotiators used a phrase that is very apt for this: Trust, but verify. Sometimes—shock!—people within our bubble, even politicians, will tell us things that aren’t true, or that are misleading.

The job of the news media is to report facts based on the available evidence, not to make us comfortable or to present only flattering fluff about politicians. If news media reports make us uncomfortable, that’s a good thing! It can spur us to truly look into an issue ourselves, and to look outside of our own bubble, even if only to try to refute the report. And in so doing, our own opinions and beliefs will become better and more valid because they’ll be based on evidence, not hunches or feelings or agreement within our bubbles.

If we look only for news media that makes us comfortable, we really are doing it wrong.

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