As an employee of Discovery Education, and a fairly public one at that, I tried very hard to stay politically neutral. Regardless of whether I put a “opinions are solely my own” flag on my Twitter page, the reality is that we do represent the people we work for, like it or not. Since leaving Discovery, I’ve been much more active about sharing my thoughts about the political environment we’re in right now. In particular, I’ve been an advocate for civil discourse. For having conversations with people, for debating publicly but without letting things get to the point where they devolve into a ‘flame war.’ I’ve also tried to emulate the type of conversation that I think I would want our students to engage in. Refraining from making personal remarks, respecting the right to people’s opinions, and trying to back my own up with facts whenever possible. I haven’t always lived up to my own standards, but I’m trying.
I freely admit that there are two sides to every story. And I absolutely respect people’s right to disagree with me. However, there are still such a thing as facts. And it’s disturbing to me how little those seem to matter any more.
I’m specifically referencing a conversation I had last night. Regarding CNN and Buzzfeed’s coverage of the recent Trump/Russia report, I saw someone on Facebook share a clip from Ben Swann, a reporter from CBS Atlanta. In the post, she shared that the “report by BuzzFeed that was then reported by CNN is not journalism. While main stream media outlets have been screaming about fake news for months, they now themselves are becoming the greatest purveyor of that very fake news.” I pointed out that A) CNN put out their article first and B) they didn’t disclose any of the details, their report focused on the fact that both Trump and Obama and been briefed on the report that had been circulating.
In response, I got a whirlwind of justification, that CNN was being sensationalistic, that CNN was engaging in poor journalism, that CNN was posting opinions instead of doing actual reporting, that CNN later changed their story to add the word ‘allegedly,’ and so on.
The truth is, I have no vested interest in CNN. I don’t even watch it myself. But I read the article several times. And I can’t find any statement in the article that I think they covered inappropriately. Read it for yourself. In fact, don’t just read that version, because that version has been updated several times. Go back and read the original.
But here’s my problem. I asked the people I was discussing this with to do the same. To see for themselves. I wanted to understand their point of view so I asked them to look at the article they were railing against and to let me know specifically what they had an issue with. In response, the same person who states “the problem is that journalism is now all opinion” shared a link to this article. An article that included statements like, “CNN did what CNN does, it looked for someone to blame — or at least for someone to whom it could deflect some of the blame.” And when I asked again for that person to go to the original source and just quote me what CNN wrote that was opinion or an example of poor journalism, the response was, “You know what Steve I think we need to agree to disagree on this. I don’t have time to go back and forth. At the end of the day you won’t listen to what I’m saying.”
And that’s where we are.
I’m genuinely at a loss here. I really don’t care about CNN. But there are two issues that I’m struggling with: 1) That people are so invested in their beliefs that they don’t care if their supporting proofs are untrue and 2) How do you have a productive discussion when someone responds to concrete black and white evidence as, “well we’ll just agree to disagree.”
I’d like to think that people can come to consensus, have a discussion and learn from each other. I’d like to think that people can make mistakes and learn from them without feeling like it’s an attack on them as a person. But maybe that’s unrealistic. Perhaps we’ve entered an age where people will believe, and there’s literally nothing that can be said or done to dissuade them from that belief. Fact, opinion, or otherwise. And if that’s the case… where do we go from here?