While this post is dealing with a political figure, I don’t want to write about politics. I’m far more interested in the divisive and sensational nature of media. Do not take what I write here as endorsing one side or the other.
If you follow politics, you’re almost certainly aware that several individuals are starting to announce their candidacy for President of the United States.
- A few weeks back, Ted Cruz announced his candidacy.
- This past Tuesday, Rand Paul made his announcement.
- Hilary Clinton made her announcement Sunday.
- Marco Rubio announced his candidacy Monday.
- Former Texas Governor Rick Perry is on a speaking tour which included the Bible college I attended (many speculating that this is in anticipation of an upcoming announcement).
While the primaries are months away, and the election is about a year and half away, things have already started getting ugly. And by ugly, I’m not just referring to attack ads (which started BEFORE people even announced their candidacies), and I’m not talking about politicians attacking other politicians based on their track records; some of them started doing that two years ago.
I’m talking about new media already going into full-blown spin mode.
CASE STUDY IN MEDIA SPIN | Rand Paul Vs. Savannah Guthrie
The day after Rand Paul announced his candidacy, he appeared on THE TODAY SHOW to be interviewed by Savannah Guthrie. Roughly half-way through the interview, Guthrie started into a new line of questioning.
This is what she said:
You have had views on foreign policy that are somewhat unorthodox, but you seem to have changed over the years.
- You once said Iran is not a threat, and now you say it is.
- You once proposed ending all foreign aid to Israel, and now you support it at least for the time being.
At this point, she attempted to continue listing off positions he had changed on, and he immediately started to try and respond to the first two accusations. They then each began to talk over the other person; Her insisting that she gets to finish her “question,” and him insisting on being allowed to respond to accusations of him changing positions.
Eventually, she stopped talking enough for him to respond, though she continued to cut him off. Here is what he said, while she talked over him:
“Why don’t we let me explain instead of talking over me, OK? Before we go through a litany of things you say I’ve changed on, why don’t you ask me a question: ‘Have I changed my opinion?’”
“That would be a better sort of way to approach an interview.”
“No no, well I mean you’ve editorialized. No no no no no no no. Listen. You’ve editorialized; let me answer a question.”
“You ask a question, and you say ‘have your views changed’ instead of editorializing and saying my views have changed.”
One could certainly argue that he was unnecessarily short with her, or that he could have waited until she finished before correcting her. But, from a different perspective, she was using a question to thinly veil an attempt to construct a narrative of him as a flip flopper.
Her eventual question was, “Have you mellowed?” On the surface, that seems like a fair question, but the path she took to get there was to paint him as a radical who shifts positions based off of the current political climate. This becomes even more painfully obvious when you look at her specific accusations. She started off by referencing his views on Iran changing. What she didn’t mention was that his initial comment was from EIGHT YEARS AGO. A lot can happen in a country in EIGHT YEARS.
It’s perfectly fair for her to ask about his seemingly contradictory positions, but that’s not the same thing as constructing a narrative before even asking a question.
CASE STUDY IN SPINNING THE SPIN INTO SEXISM | Blue Nation Review Vs. Rand Paul
I actually became aware of the story above because of a sponsored article which appeared on my Facebook page. It quickly caught my attention due to it’s open sexism.
The comment above the subject line, “Was this performance supposed to help Rand Paul with women voters?”
The article itself didn’t contain any commentary on the situation. The only new information beyond what was mentioned on my Facebook page was a bio of Guthrie making it clear she’s been in the a reporter for 20 years.
I’m assuming that what we’re supposed to gather from the headline is that Rand Paul is a male chauvinist, and he was only short with the reporter because she is a woman. Likewise, they seem to believe women voters filter everything they see through their gender and sexism.
The entire time I was thinking to myself, “Does Blue Nation Review not realize that it’s blatantly sexist to call him a ‘Manly man’?” Nothing in his response dealt with her gender. He’s had similar on air disputes with male reporters. The saw him as a MAN talking aggressively with a WOMAN, and therefore he must be some kind of chauvinist. When you see a MAN and make a negative assumption about him because he’s a man, that’s blatant sexism.
So, a story about Rand Paul changing his views suddenly shifted to him being a sexist.
Confirmation Bias & Responding With Grace
As I said at the beginning, I’m not interested in taking political sides. Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN all throw their spin on everything. None of them simply report anymore. All of them select stories and spin stories to construct a narrative. It’s extremely frustrating.
If you know what you’re looking for, it ‘s very easy to spot what they’re doing.
Confirmation bias, also called myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, or recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses – Wikipedia.”
The news reporters themselves, like everyone else, are influenced by confirmation bias, but they are also aware that their audience is susceptible to confirmation bias.
This is why the interview which incited this post was so dubious. As much as she claimed to be asking a question about his record, she was giving just enough information to confirm people’s bias. Likewise, when you post a video and prime people to notice how rude and sexist someone is, people go in not evaluating what is actually said, but looking for sexism.
Why do I write all of this?
As we head into another election cycle, respond different. Think differently!
- We tend to offer enormous amounts of grace to people we agree with, and we see those we disagree with through extreme cynicism.
- We tend to assume motives for or about those we disagree with.
- We tend to construct narratives about other people’s actions.
- We tend to see issues in black and white.
- We tend to believe in an overly implied version of the world where the people we agree with are noble, and the people we disagree with are corrupt and incompetent.
You can’t change the news, but you can be intentional about offering grace to all.