The New York Post recently published an article by Ken Stern, former CEO of NPR, which posed an interesting challenge for citizens to leave their respective liberal and conservative bubbles in order to get to know those from the other side. The piece, entitled “Former NPR CEO Opens Up about Liberal Media Bias,” provides details and revelations from Stern’s experience doing just this:
Most reporters and editors are liberal — a now-dated Pew Research Center poll found that liberals outnumber conservatives in the media by some 5 to 1, and that comports with my own anecdotal experience at National Public Radio. When you are liberal, and everyone else around you is as well, it is easy to fall into groupthink on what stories are important, what sources are legitimate and what the narrative of the day will be.
This may seem like an unusual admission from someone who once ran NPR, but it is borne of recent experience. Spurred by a fear that red and blue America were drifting irrevocably apart, I decided to venture out from my overwhelmingly Democratic neighborhood and engage Republicans where they live, work and pray. For an entire year, I embedded myself with the other side, standing in pit row at a NASCAR race, hanging out at Tea Party meetings and sitting in on Steve Bannon’s radio show. I found an America far different from the one depicted in the press and imagined by presidents (“cling to guns or religion”) and presidential candidates (“basket of deplorables”) alike.
The growing divide amongst Americans has been on the rise since the mid 90’s, with a sharp hike after 2004. As the gap gets progressively wider, a marked disconnect between what the media portrays as the country’s top priorities and the genuine priorities of average Americans becomes more apparent. Unfortunately, the mainstream media and government politicians are highly influenced by one another, often leading officials to ignore the issues most urgent in the public’s mind and thus fail in their duty to suitably represent their constituents. For instance:
I also spent time in depressed areas of Kentucky and Ohio with workers who felt that their concerns had long fallen on deaf ears and were looking for every opportunity to protest a government and political and media establishment that had left them behind. I drank late into the night at the Royal Oaks Bar in Youngstown and met workers who had been out of the mills for almost two decades and had suffered the interlocking plagues of unemployment, opioid addiction and declining health. They mourned the passing of the old days, when factory jobs were plentiful, lucrative and honored and lamented the destruction and decay of their communities, their livelihoods and their families. To a man (and sometimes a woman), they looked at media and saw stories that did not reflect the world that they knew or the fears that they had.
He goes on:
Over the course of this past year, I have tried to consume media as they do and understand it as a partisan player. It is not so hard to do. Take guns. Gun control and gun rights is one of our most divisive issues, and there are legitimate points on both sides. But media is obsessed with the gun-control side and gives only scant, mostly negative, recognition to the gun-rights sides.
Take, for instance, the issue of legitimate defensive gun use (DGU), which is often dismissed by the media as myth. But DGUs happen all the time — 200 times a day, according to the Department of Justice, or 5,000 times a day, according to an overly exuberant Florida State University study. But whichever study you choose to believe, DGUs happen frequently and give credence to my hunting friends who see their guns as the last line of defense for themselves and their families.
Because many Americans see the media stories as irrelevant to their own lives, it is not hard to understand why 65 percent of voters feel that the media reports a large amount of fake news and seeks to encourage the partisan divide. This creates a problem as policymakers can no longer effectively create and pass legislation without running into roadblocks from parties in opposition. Should members of both parties follow Stern’s example in seeking to understand and experience life as a member of the opposing party, perhaps hatred will be less of a driving force in the rift. Stern mentions how waiting so long to experience life from a conservative standpoint was his only regret about the journey.
Though unbiased media coverage would be a major step in dispelling ignorance on both sides as well as addressing the needs of real Americans, it is unlikely to happen any time soon. As it may be, Stern’s decision to leave his echo chamber and interact with the other side depicts a citizen taking matters into his own hands. It is each individual’s responsibility to take the initiative in forming educated political opinions. Why not follow Stern’s example and get some firsthand experience in the process?
Read the rest of Stern’s story here.