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Look at What We Can Learn When We Venture Out into Red America!

From the Tuesday Morning Jolt:

Look at What We Can Learn When We Venture Out into Red America!

Ken Stern, who worked at NPR from 1999 to 2008 and served as the institution’s CEO, chose to spend an entire year living in “red America” and getting to know the Americans who saw issues differently from him: evangelical Christians, gun owners, Tea Party activists, NASCAR fans, etcetera. He’s pleasantly surprised by what he found, and he concludes there’s a strong argument to be made that the country’s largest media institutions poorly serve large swaths of the country, out of a combination of bias, ignorance, and cultural barriers:

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.

Describing a store owner who uses a firearm to drive off a would-be armed robber, Stern writes, “It’s not that media is suppressing stories intentionally. It’s that these stories don’t reflect their interests and beliefs.”

Journalism requires judgment. If you pick up a newspaper (pardon my anachronistic examples) and everything that’s on the front page seems boring, irrelevant, and not that important to you, you probably won’t buy it or read it. Journalists and editors need to have good acumen for what’s important in the lives of their audience and a sense of how to balance what you need to read and what you want to read. We all have a sense of how the world works, and those of us who follow politics tend to develop strong, even intense beliefs of how things are and how they ought to be. Revising those beliefs is a slow and difficult process.

The Washington Post’s health care correspondent dismissed the trial of abortionist Kermit Gosnell as a “local crime story.” A Democratic senator is currently on trial in corruption, not far from the media capital of the country, with allegations of private jets ferrying the senator to party with gorgeous supermodels at lush tropical resorts and $100 million stolen from Medicare to pay for the lavish lifestyle and fill campaign coffers… and it’s gotten intermittent coverage at best. A longtime Democratic staffer was arrested by the FBI as he attempted to flee to Pakistan, wiping his phone of all data hours earlier.

Why do reporters in the national news media find these stories… not quite as compelling as conservative journalism institutions? A pretty plausible theory is that living and working among so many other like-minded left-of-center people leaves them with an inaccurate perception of how the world actually works. In their minds, abortionists are dedicated medical professionals who risk death threats to provide vital serves to women, not monsters. Democratic senators and their staffers are good people, dedicated, principled and law-abiding. Cases that contradict these beliefs are inconsequential exceptions, and not worthy of extended public attention.

Orwell described this well: “The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield… To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

No doubt, we on the Right have these blind spots as well. But we have the advantage of constantly encountering the left-of-center views from dominant institutions, so I think more counter-arguments permeate our “bubble.” I think we’re slightly better at revising our beliefs in the face of contrary data, although I’m sure a lot of progressives will scoff at this. But you’ve seen quite a few prominent conservatives rethink their views on incarceration and various criminal justice issues and whether drug use should be criminalized. Most Republicans are far more wary of military interventions and the promotion of democracy abroad after the Iraq War. There’s far more acceptance of gay marriage than a decade or two ago. No one is perfect, but I think Red America understands Blue America more than Blue America understands Red America.

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