The ancient Greek philosopher, Diogenes, famously carried a lantern as he looked futilely for an honest man. We’re talking over 2,000 years ago, so maybe we can put the current media hysteria about fake news in perspective.
However, the reality is that many of us today see reporters, TV hosts, bloggers and columnists as partisan propagandists. We view media outlets as centers of distortion, censorship and hypocrisy. Our conclusions are not without reason.
In the days when debate was actually a clearly defined skill, people recognized that being able to see your opponent’s point of view was necessary to argue your own case well. At the time of America’s founding, while there was propaganda and misinformation, there was even more learned debate and published material arguing for various perspectives. How amazing that Thomas Paine’s Common Sense or the Federalist Papers were read and discussed by everyday citizens (or citizens to be) not by obscure academics!
These observations led me to spend an hour listening to Oprah Winfrey’s interview with First Lady Michelle Obama. I had been struck by the contrast between highly negative articles including quotes from the interview and glowing reports of the interview on platforms from opposite sides of the political aisle. Not surprisingly, the comments under each article mostly shared the opinions expressed. I didn’t see anyone mentioning a few good points and a few troubling one. Everything I saw presented an analysis that was black or white as well as predictably in line with the author’s political views. I wanted to make up my own mind rather than have it made up for me.
Here’s my take after hearing the interview. First of all, this interview was not meant to be an incisive or confrontational political piece. It was meant to be a friendly, personal look into Michelle Obama’s life and feelings at the end of two terms in the White House. She was warm, charming, intelligent and articulate. If the interview was my only exposure to her or her husband and if I automatically accepted everything she said as gospel I would have a glowing view of the past eight years.
Yet, that would be foolish of me. Oprah and Mrs. Obama spoke of the inclusiveness of the White House during those years. They ignored the religious Christians and Jews, police officers and gun owners (among others) who felt marginalized during those same years. Michelle Obama spoke of the hope her husband gave America and seemed unaware of the despair the entered the country which contributed greatly to her husband’s successor’s defeat. Anyone who heard the vitriol directed at Laura Bush or Nancy Reagan or who has read of Rachel Jackson’s name being dragged through the mud might hesitate before acting as if every other First Lady was treated with kid gloves. I think that I’d be naive to accept Mrs. Obama’s perspective as my reality, but I I also think it was unnecessary to bash her for her words extolling the administration. First Ladies have traditionally been publicly supportive of their husbands and it is not news to me that her views are distorted by the agenda she follows (as is true for most of us).
I did not find her whiny for recognizing that along with great benefits, living in the White House has certain drawbacks. Her love for her daughters was admirable and I appreciated her words in support of military families even if I fault her husband for not taking care of the soldiers under his command. In other words, I heard a gracious woman present a skewed view of life according to her understanding. It isn’t mine and I would object to it being presented in a classroom without analysis, but I’m tired of hearing sentences lifted from the larger picture (something she herself did in the interview when it came to President-elect Trump) and treated as if that was the whole story. Wouldn’t it be nice to find honesty in reporting again rather than having to choose one’s bias and read only articles that either support or revile that view?