Sometimes, in this U.S. election season, you have a dig through a certain amount of misleading verbiage to get a better handle on the story.
This came to mind last week when a startling tidbit appeared on Facebook: Fox News had called Paul Ryan a liar. To be sure, other media were making similar accusations shortly after the Republican vice-presidential candidate gave his acceptance speech to the national convention. But a conservative news organization slamming a conservative candidate?
I pay close attention to this sort of thing. When a person or organization goes against the party line, it sometimes reveals a penetrating insight about the truth of the matter. Â So if both The New York Times and Fox News (traditionally perceived as liberal and conservative, respectively) were accusing Ryan of lying, perhaps he was. That could be a serious charge.
Was it accurate?
I clicked through the Facebook link to the story. There it was in living color: â€œRyanâ€™s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech.â€
Wow. So Fox News did say that.
Not so fast. At the bottom of the article was a brief bio of the authorâ€”Sally Kohn, described as â€œa Fox News contributor and writerâ€â€”and a link. One click brought me to her website, another to her bio. A close reading revealed that her writing, her experience, and her activities run the gamut of the political spectrum, with an emphasis toward causes and media traditionally perceived as liberal.
So the Facebook post was inaccurate on two counts. First, Fox News didnâ€™t write about Paul Ryanâ€™s speech; Sally Kohn of Fox News did. Second, Sally Kohn does not appear to toe the conservative party line. Her view of Ryanâ€™s address is less remarkable when you consider that.
Whatâ€™s my point? I am not by any means impugning Sally Kohnâ€™s writing or integrity. Nor am I making any judgment on Paul Ryanâ€™s speech (I havenâ€™t watched it yet). What I am emphasizing is the importance of getting the full story, ideally reading it in several sources on different points of the political spectrum. In my book (now available for pre-order), I call this the â€œbalanced media dietâ€: if we get our news from, say, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, or The National Review and Mother Jones, or The Economist and the International Socialist Reviewâ€”or, even better, all sixâ€”weâ€™ll have a far broader knowledge base from which to test the veracity of any given news item.
Most likely, weâ€™ll also be more inclined to dialogue. One (sometimes painful) effect of a balanced media diet is that we come face to face with the legitimate viewpoints of the â€œother side.â€ We can understand how its adherents might come to the assumptions they cherish and the conclusions they put forth. We begin to see that our view is not necessarily the One True View, or even one of two opposing views, but rather one among many. Our thinking gets more nuanced. When this happens, we are more open to dialogue with our adversariesâ€”because itâ€™s harder to think of them as adversaries any longer.
Have you found news items that arenâ€™t what they first appear to be? Have you read a publication from the other side of an issue and found it more enlightening than infuriating? Iâ€™d love to hear your experiences along these lines.