Current Location: Not the United States
One of the challenges of being abroad is attempting to keep up with American news and politics. It has been difficult to take the temperature of current events. As events unfold I can keep up via the media and friends/family, but I miss out on the constant contact with American people that governs much of how we perceive news. I have felt this missing means of communication most acutely this weekend during and after the terrifying events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia.
People typically consume news that is consistent with their own biases. Being abroad has forced me to self-select my news consumption more than ever before. As a person who is left-leaning, I generally read Vox and the New York Times for much of my American news. I do not read Fox News save when a certain family member (you know who you are) sends me articles. However, what I find dangerous about the media is that not all of these sources acknowledge their biases overtly. While it is generally accepted that NYT is left-learning and Fox News is
insane right-leaning, neither necessarily bills themselves as biased sources of information. In fact, having a bias is seen as a fault of reporting. We are only supposed to rely on news that is impartial, when in reality unbiased reporting does not exist.
By consuming news that we 1) hand select and 2) do not acknowledge as biased, we give ourselves permission to forgo critical thinking. If I assume that a news article is impartial, then I can accept its information at face value. I think that this is how “fake news” and misinformation gets circulated; we are so afraid to acknowledge that the news we personally consume is not impartial and we surround ourselves in an echo chamber of media.
I do not believe that self-selecting biased media is strictly a bad thing (as sarcastic as the title of this post is). Yes, it would certainly be better if we could all consume a perfect balance of information, but interpretation is necessarily subjective, as are all people.
I have been listening to podcasts lately because they offer a slightly different perspective than traditional media outlets. One of my favorite podcasts is called Pod Save America. The political podcast is hosted by four former Obama Administration staffers: Jon Favreau, Obama’s senior speechwriter, Jon Lovett, another speechwriter, Dan Pfeiffer, a senior advisor, and Tommy Vietor, an administration spokesperson.
“This is a political podcast for people not yet ready to give up or go insane”
I enjoy and appreciate several aspects of the podcast. To begin with, these guys are hilarious. They really take the piss out of each other, which gives the podcast a “buddy” feel: they are your fun friends that you get to hang out with and talk about smart things. Having served in the White House, they also offer a unique perspective. When events unfold (to put it mildly…), they are able to comment on how analogous situations were handled internally during their time in the White House, or how they think their Obama Administration colleagues would have reacted in comparison to the actions of their Trump Administration counterparts.
My favorite aspect of Pod Save America is that the hosts are unapologetically leftist. Not just liberal-minded people, they are without question Democrats with a capital D. Favreau’s bio on Crooked Media’s website lists his home as “the ideologically diverse bellwether of Los Angeles, California.” The hosts acknowledge their own biases and backgrounds, but never pretend to check them at the door. They recognize their leftist bias in a way that allows listeners to filter their opinions.
I appreciate the candor in this regard because it forces me to be a more critically thinking news consumer. The hosts of Pod Save America are not perfect or all-knowing, nor do they claim to be. They are entertaining, smart, and make their own beliefs clear, a combination that forces their listeners to be critical and contemplative. That should be the goal of media: not to present information with the pretension of impartiality, but to say, “Here is what we think about what is happening. Your turn.”