By Reagan Knopp
Over the last several months, our society has started a discussion about fake news. The left believes anything that affirms conservative views is fake news. Trump supporters believe anything spoken against Trump is fake news. Everyone in the middle is more confused than ever. Who is to blame?
All of us.
I’ve seen journalists who write as if they believe that they and their peers alone are the representatives of the people. They believe themselves to be the watchdogs for the public against political hypocrisy, corruption, and excessive partisanship. They aren’t wrong but they also aren’t without their own issues to sort out.
What they forget is that the public rarely ever agrees 100% on most issues. Once journalists extend themselves beyond hard facts into analysis – which often includes some kind of bias – they immediately stop representing 30-40% of the people and what those people believe on most issues. Pundits offering analysis in the same breath as hard news make this problem worse.
Meanwhile, the Internet has turned the business model of the news media on its head, to the point that it seems as if editorial decisions about coverage and headlines are made solely on the basis of what will generate clicks, shares, and ad views. The world of the news media has changed forever.
It has always been the case that politicians have sought to push their personal and partisan agendas in the media. However, in my (admittedly limited) time in politics I’ve never seen both major parties have such little interaction with the same set of facts. Increasingly the right and left don’t just disagree about the solutions to our problems but disagree about the problems and the facts themselves. The spin being pushed from all sides is dizzying.
Very few politicians seek to become statesmen, opting instead to tow the party line at any costs. Unfortunately, the costs to a civil society have been astronomical. The media has been given fewer and fewer resources to vet claims coming from politicians and the know it. Thus it has become easier to push an agenda in the media without being called out for inaccurate data.
We The People
While the Internet and new media has brought a voice to conservative and liberal media, it has also made it easier for us to wall ourselves off from information that challenges our beliefs. Instead of spending time researching multiple sides of an issue, we argue with our friends, families, and strangers on Facebook. Googling only for figures, facts, and reports that reinforce our point of view. In our quest avoid being wrong in public, we dig in our heels and ignore or refute everything that challenges us. Coupled with the issues in the media over the past decade, it has become dramatically easier for us to be sucked in by fake news.
Once upon a time, we had political discussions at town halls, in coffee shops, and at the dinner table. When President Reagan said that all great change in America begins at the dinner table, he was right. At the dinner table, we sat face to face with real people who had life experience, feelings, and culture that informed their views. When we disagreed with people it was amicably and with the understanding that there were views other than our own that were worth exploring or at least tolerating.
While we don’t intend to change our conservative perspective, I plan to lead Oregon Catalyst in a way that that is as intellectually honest and upstanding as I can.
This problem of fake news – regardless of the source – belongs to all of us now. Even Oregon Catalyst at times has been part of the problem. At this point, it doesn’t matter if the right, left, or center is responsible because we’ve all either contributed to or been complacent in this problem.
Here are the facts: the media elites, the politicians, and even we the people have all been wrong at some point. None of these group or individuals have a monopoly on truth or fact. We’re all human and all humans are fallible.
To heal our country and begin to save the republic, we must all respect the place of the majority and the minority. We must respect those who win and lose elections. We must recognize that not everyone is exactly like us. We must recognize that our political opponents are people too.
Above all, we must recognize that 51% to 49% is no way to govern ourselves. Political conflict is healthy – necessary even – but a house divided against itself will not stand.