When I was a teacher of U.S. History and Government, I had only one rule for my students and it was that they think. I told them flat out:
I don’t care what you think – I care that you think. Time will take care of the rest.
Their thinking was dependent upon being able to access facts and alternative lines of thought so that they would be challenged to actually think deeply versus reacting emotionally.
Today, kids call that “adulting.”
In order for me to make 17th and 18th century U.S. History interesting for late 20th century high school students, I had to make it relevant to their lives. So, we would talk a great deal about current events and apply them back to whatever time we were discussing in our curriculum. In that way, our history would come alive for them and they would then dive deeper into their studies.
Whenever students offered an opinion, I would challenge them with the opposite view making them defend their thinking. As a result, they also challenged my own thinking and it made me grow intellectually as well as professionally.
Essential to the entire proposition of educating our people is having access to those aforementioned facts and alternative lines of thinking.
One of the hallmarks or cornerstones of the American experiment in republican democracy has been our institution of investigative journalism — finding out what really happened and why.
Sadly, that institution is being replaced with partisan journalism and it’s a very real threat to the future of our republic. Our adversaries know it and are exploiting it in order to deepen our divisions.
This is not a knock on either side of the political spectrum. Both sides do it. It’s just simply calling balls and strikes or as Zig Ziglar said:
The first step in solving a problem is to recognize that is does exist.
This is an easy diagnosis – we have a problem.
Last week, Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee, Glenn Youngkin, put out a policy platform on ending human trafficking that should have made news. It didn’t. The Washington Times, a conservative outlet, ran a story that got all of eleven likes and five retweets on Twitter.
(If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it…)
Meanwhile, a sports reporter for Harrisonburg’s Daily News Record got 12 retweets and 20 likes for his story/tweet about a local high school’s new athletic director.
Just days after Juneteenth is made a national holiday to celebrate the ending of slavery and during Pride Month, which celebrates the LGTBQ community, a statewide candidate comes up with a plan to end a modern-day slave trade of people who are disproportionately LGTBQ/People of Color (too many of whom are MINORS) and there was almost NO COVERAGE.
Not one Virginia newspaper saw fit to cover a policy proposal on human trafficking.
Sexual exploitation. Modern day slavery. Here. Now. Today. Hundreds of thousands of times a year.
Was the subject just too icky? Or worse was it partisan – does it help Youngkin counter their narrative about Virginia Republicans? Is the press this partisan or just unable to cover statewide campaigns anymore? Or both? Either way, it’s not good.
The reality (a.k.a. facts) combines illegal immigration, the illicit drug trade, child rape, the dark side of social media, AND the sexual exploitation of LGTBQ/ People of Color. Just to name a few.
It’s bad enough when the two primary cable news outlets — Fox News and MSNBC — have to ADMIT IN COURT that their top rated “anchors” — Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow- – do not report fact-based news. (Let’s be honest, pissed off people = ratings. REALLY pissed off = REALLY good ratings.)
Is it also bad when important issues are simply ignored? Or is it worse than just bad when both side agree that yes, in fact, human trafficking is a scourge and therefore is not a controversy? Can’t we have that? Ya know, both sides agreeing on a scourge in order to — ya know — stop it somehow?
What harm would it have been to say Glenn Youngkin is trying to do something about human trafficking, then list his ideas, and then call his opponent for a comment? Like Terry McAuliffe is going to be anything but Also Against Human Trafficking?
Fox and MSNBC have admitted IN COURT that their business is hyperbolic entertainment and that their audiences should know this! That’s their business model.
What’s the excuse of every mainstream media outlet in Virginia?
Was Donald Trump with his some of his Fake News! Sad! Tweets? Yes.
All of the press? No, of course not.
Was Donald Trump wrong when he called the press “the enemy of the people?”
Also yes — that was very wrong and dangerously so.
This is a real problem.
The press wastes zero time trying to find the slightest whiff that democracy is dying yet fail miserably to point the finger at themselves as being part of that problem.
One of my favorite journalists is Matt Taibbi. He knows we have a problem and is willing to call out his own industry. That’s healthy. We all should listen to our critics. They’re usually, but not always, right. The review process can be very productive and therapeutic.
Taibbi wrote these must-reads back in January – We Need a New Media System and The Sovietization of the American Press and is a self-described progressive but is, thankfully, an honest one. Taibbi makes me think and it’s not always comfortable. He’s a good teacher that way.
Here’s a great interview Taibbi did with News Nation. Read those columns and watch/listen to this powerful indictment of American journalism. His advice on solving the problem is for journalists to be as accurate as possible in their reporting and letting the public make the political decisions.
This commentary is not directed at anyone journalist or publication. Far from it. Their industry – an important institution in our democratic republic — is undergoing a massive transformation as is the rest of our society.
During these times, and we have had similar ones in our past, it is absolutely critical to simply report the facts and leave the decision making to us.
That’s our job, but we also have to show that we can be trusted with the truth. Trust and truth are in short supply these days and both are needed to turn this terrible, divisive trend which is only being accelerated by plummeting cable “news” ratings.
We can handle the truth as long as we can trust it being so.
Time will take care of the rest.
Chris Saxman is executive director of Virginia FREE. This column has been republished with permission from his Substack newsletter The Intersection.