I try to steer clear of politics, because frankly, you get enough of that everywhere else.
Many columnists make it quite clear. They’re on this side or the other. That’s why I’m warning you at the outset. If you’re looking for someone to affirm your views or condemn those you oppose, this column will not make you happy.
I was at a family gathering recently, and try as I might to keep the focus on new babies, football and food, I was unsuccessful. Everybody wanted to talk politics. “How long is this shutdown gonna last?” “What do you think about that wall?” And of course, “Why don’t y’all news people stop picking on our president?”
Because I report the news on TV each day, I’m not allowed to have political opinions. Well, not publicly anyway. I vote in every election, but news reporters must keep their opinions to themselves.
I know what you’re thinking, and if you haven’t already slammed this paper down, either from anger or laughter, let me explain. I’m old school. I can verify this because my senior picture in the hallway of my old school has faded beyond recognition.
I grew up during a time when major news outlets made sure you knew the difference between news and opinion. Like my senior picture, those lines are almost invisible now. Who’s delivering the news impartially, and who’s trying to shape your opinion? That lady on TV seems articulate and well dressed. Is she giving me information that’s down the middle? Or is she pitching to the far left, or the far right? If she is staking out a position, is she making that clear?
The answer is complicated. Sometimes it is obvious, but other times, it is opinion hidden under the guise of news. One of the major networks, which I used to trust like a member of the family, had me fooled in 2016. They reported a political campaign story in a very slanted manner, and it was not labeled as opinion or commentary. I still don’t trust them.
In recent years, the news media has taken its lumps. In some well-publicized cases, those lumps are much deserved. In the frantic 24/7 race to be first, many news outlets have rushed to judgment with little regard for facts or details. On the local level, it would be like this paper running a front page story about something the editor heard his neighbor’s cousin repeat outside the hardware store. Of course, a good editor would never do that. He or she would require a second source. And no, that doesn’t include someone else repeating the rumor on Facebook.
That is why there is no excuse for some of the mistakes we are seeing at a much higher level. By regurgitating stories from non-credible sources, and making split-second assumptions based on a snippet of video, many national news media outlets have been wiping egg off their collective faces. All the soap in the world will not remove the goo, not anytime soon.
Good journalists try to report both sides of the story and to be honest and accurate. When revealing the shortcomings of those in power, this does not usually go over well in the school superintendent’s office, the sheriff’s department, City Hall, the Governor’s mansion, or the White House. A good journalist loses some friends along the way, but that comes with the territory.
You, the reader have some responsibility as well. If you are merely watching a news channel or reading a publication to validate your own opinion, you will not learn, and you will not grow. In today’s divided United States of America, one side is not totally good, and the other side is not totally evil. The answer lies somewhere in between, and it is up to you and me to put aside partisanship, seek the truth, and find ways to work together.
Amid all the recent vitriol and toxicity on Facebook, a friend posted the wisest commentary I have read about this issue. He wrote, “We have become a culture more interested in feeling something strongly, than understanding anything more fully.”
I grew up in a nation divided over Vietnam and racial equality. Eventually, some of those wounds healed, and it seemed like most of us were on the same page. Sure, we had a presidential election every four years, but if it didn’t go our way, we wouldn’t obsess over it.
I’m not here to take sides, and I make no apologies for that. I could have taken the easy route, and written a column that would make at least half the readers happy. I will leave that to others. I would rather stay here in the middle and listen to both sides. I just might learn something.
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best stories. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.