Saturday, August 15, 2009

Do we miss something by watching just Fox or MSNBC?

A recent email discussion among a group of my fraternity brothers (we were in college together over forty years ago) has centered on the issue of whether Fox News or MSNBC news presents a truthful image of what is going on in the world. I wrote the following:

Have you missed something important (by not watching Bill O’Reilly, Keith Obermann, Sean Hannity, Chris Matthews, Glenn Beck, or Rachel Maddow)? I don't know.

I believe that truth is relative to each individual and that we perceive "truth" through filtered eyes. We are prejudiced in favor of those values we hold and which have been incorporated in us throughout our life.

Theologically, I have been taught that arriving at the truth meant trusting an authoritative source (Scripture and Church tradition) and tempering them with Reason and Experience. Politically we do something similar: grounded in authoritative documents and historical figures and events, we use our Reason to arrive at values which are ratified by our Experience.

But, we all utilize those factors based on our own unique understanding of what is true. Are people basically good or bad? Can we trust a particular political leader or news commentator? Is "Big government" and/or "Big Business" good or bad? Is life black or white, good or evil (disjunctive) or is it a blending, both black and white, good and evil (conjunctive)? How we respond to issues like those, form the bases for our individual value systems.

And we seek out, as conduits for our link with the outside world, those sources who share to some degree our basic values. So, they reinforce our prejudices, our relative understandings of what is going in the body politic.

My prejudice is that all entities operate in their own best interest. And those which have tremendous power (both government and business) pursue goals which insure their own self-interests. At the moment, the forces aligned with Obama are battling with the health insurance industry. In the middle are the members of Congress, the lobbyists and all of us (the people). Each side, I am certain, believes in the "rightness" of its efforts. Each wants to preserve its own existence. The basic issue is, which "side" has a set of values and goals which will produce the most good for most of the people?

And we all line up on one side or the other based on our own prejudiced opinions. Or, we stand in the middle of all the stormy propaganda, not sure what is best. Or, we simply do our best to ignore the whole mess.

I choose to listen to Rachel Maddow and take her for my most trusted commentator. She is very intelligent, researches her stories very well, has authoritative persons as interviewees, and speaks the truth to power. But those evaluations are based on my own prejudice. Others might say the same for Bill O'Reilly. Of course, we do not give complete trust to them, but they are trusted to tell us the "truth".

I could give you a long list of reasons why I think our lives will be negatively impacted if the health insurance companies win. Others could balance my thoughts with their own.

If you or I limit our news input primarily to Fox or MSNBC we may or may not have missed something by not listening to the other commentators I named. But, if an informed citizenry is important, some means of being connected to the body politic and it's issues is important. Unfortunately, in our polarized political environment, polemics dominate all news, and that means we all must listen and evaluate with sharp discernment--knowing that, at best, what we hear is only partial truth.

I do believe I am right. But then, John Wesley said, "No man will hold an opinion which he thinks is wrong."