Updated: Oct 21, 2020
So a friend of mine recently took the "News Switch Challenge." If you've heard of it before, then you're doing better than me. Apparently, in this challenge, you switch your news consumption to the opposite side for one week in order to see the perspective of another person. He is an avid Fox News watcher, so he decided to switch to CNN (not the biggest of changes, like say NewsMax to MSNBC, but significant enough for the challenge).
As he shared his experience and what he felt with me, I was struck at how similar it was to my experience when I decided to make the switch to the BBC as my main source of news, and to begin to watch CNN, MSNBC, and Al-Jazeera to hear what was being said on the left. That's compared to getting most of my news from Fox News and only reading opposing views in print. It's not the same as watching their news shows, it's not even close.
When you switch, you're almost in a daze. You look around, and it sure looks like Earth, but you're wondering what strange new world you've woken up on. Nothing that anyone is saying makes sense, and though you can see that they're using the same facts, the way that they frame them, and the historical references that they use, spin the entire story 180 degrees from what you think and believe. Then you flip the channel back, because you want to be sure you haven't missed something, and you realize that yes, indeed, it REALLY is that different. Same people, same facts, yet a completely and totally different story.
It's often said, that you can have your own opinion, but you can't have your own facts. Yet while this statement is absolutely true, how you present those facts and the context within which they arise, will greatly change the way that people see what is being reported. For example:
Let's say that Joe Biden gave an awkward hug to a young lady at a campaign event. Now, this isn't unimaginable, and it won't take much for you to picture it, but what comes NEXT is what you have to pay attention to.
The next morning, Fox News reports it this way, "Vice President, Joe Biden, inappropriately hugs a young lady at a campaign stop. You can see how uncomfortable she is by the look on her face. I wonder why people aren't taking these allegations of his past sexual misconducts seriously."
Yet if you are watching it on CNN, you're likely hear it framed as, "Vice President, Joe Biden, had to console a young lady who was clearly and obviously distraught after hearing what he said about what President Trump is doing to her future. I mean, just look at her face. He's so compassionate." However, on the BBC, you'd most likely hear, "Well, Vice President Biden had an awkward moment at the end of his town hall when he attempted to hug a young lady who was clearly not prepared for it. I'm sure both sides are going to make more out of this than it is, but perhaps this wasn't the best move for him as a candidate."
Any wonder why I switched? But that's a digression.
You see, most people don't even realize that what they're watching is contributing to how they see things, particularly if they already live in an echo chamber. Oh, come on, you know at least one person, and you might BE that one person. You've let go of all of your "friends" who are on the opposite political side, you've set yourself to get your news only from a source that sees things "your way," your Facebook and Twitter feeds only show "approved" sources, and you unfriend people who share sources that disagree with you. Yes, this kind of confirmation bias not only exists, but millions of people on both sides actively engage it in, and it's killing our national unity.
Yet, in the middle of all of this, I wonder, corporations only give us what we want. I mean, if people weren't watching, then these channels wouldn't be doing what they're doing. No one seems to care if what they're hearing is balanced and fair, as long as they're hearing what they want to hear. Yet I'll take it one step farther than that, why are we hearing anything at all, other than the facts, and the words straight from the horse's mouth? It's really not the news reporting that's bad, it's the punditry and opinion slathered on top of that reporting and the facts that is so detestable.
But let me ask you, don't you find it just a bit insulting that these news stations believe that they have to pre-chew, and sometimes even pre-digest the facts for you? Doesn't it bother you that these mega-corporate news conglomerates can't just give you the facts and let you decide what you think of them? I mean, that's how I ended up doing all of this blogging. I was tired of these corporations putting spin on everything, and though biases exist no matter what, spin is a choice and I decided that someone had to stand up and ask some basic and logical questions, present the facts, and allow people to arrive at their own conclusions. Call it "Walter Cronkite" syndrome if you want to, but I just couldn't sit back and take it anymore. Am I biased? Absolutely, but I admit it up front, and try to present facts as facts and opinions as opinions. That's how it should be.
So, I have a challenge for you, I challenge you to do a half and half. Watch one extreme in the morning and then the other at night. Do this for a week. After that, give the BBC one week, and just see if you can't honestly tell the difference. Not only am I sure that you will, but I think you'll be both shocked and saddened throughout the process.
We aren't each other's enemies, but we are being made to believe that we are, and that's the saddest thing I've ever realized.