Since Donald Trump won the presidency in numbers that shocked everyone paid to know the math, the media have been frank in their assessment that they got a collected “F” on their homework. From the denizens of MSNBC Morning Joe to Chuck Todd’s raw commentary to a truly insightful column by CBS’ Will Rahn, members of the fourth estate have engaged in a bit of collective groveling, talking about how they need to do more to suppress their blatant displays of smugness in the face of the “others” in our society who don’t have to good sense to live in a large metropolitan city with sanitized points of view.
But after decades of working with members of the press representing conservatives of all kinds, I don’t believe that disconnect will change as long as the media’s “analysis” of the problem continues to ignore the very people whom they claim to want to talk with and get to know.
In the last few days, panels of reporters have interviewed each other about why they and other professional critics missed the story, but when was the last time you saw them talking to the people who made this change happen with that same curiosity.
A network of people across the country, frustrated with government, academia, entertainment and media empires decided to act, and even now, when you watch the “analysis” of the change, what is offered is more naval gazing by the people who didn’t look up over the last 8 years, as wages have fallen and costs have exploded and millions of Americans have cried out for some relief.
Most of the time when issue boils over into the headlines, media representatives like myself spend hours gathering the details of the story, preparing the experts on the front lines and fine tuning key points that are being ignored, then spending countless more hours trying to get members of the media to pay attention. And most of the time, if there is a story, you find members of the media explaining what conservatives, or people of faith, or pro-life advocates or constitutionalists think. But God forbid that the actual people who are fighting the good fight on any specific issue get booked and are given the opportunity to speak for themselves.
Activists on the left get the courtesy of speaking for themselves, whether it is actors with an environmental gripe or people whose identity drives their activism. But for those on the conservative front, the media filters even the sight of the “other.”
And then there is the psychological approach to treating conservatism as some kind of weakness for which reporters and academics dismiss as lack of learning or response to economic pressures or a misplaced desire to return to the 1950s. Arriving at a different conclusion is not deplorable; it’s a Constitutional right.
I’ve worked with some extraordinary journalists whose personal views are not the story, even if they disagree. But many reporters, by the very nature of their questions, make it clear that their mind is made up, and I shouldn’t confuse them with the facts.
I’ve done countless hours of background interviews that end when a member of the media feels they have learned just enough to dismiss a point of view. But I always hope they will listen.
And then there is the set up interview, when reporters or producers want to book a conservative voice for a news package, editing complex issues to one 7-second sound bite, leading into the thoughtful conversation where the working press tells the world what they “really” meant.
Comedy shows routinely try to hide their intent, thinking sophisticated conservatives are too stupid to recognize that they will be the punch line.
I’ve told bookers directly that no client of mine with do some show because I’ve watched the show, and know it’s a set up, only to be told time and time again, “Well sure, sometimes we do that, but not with you. Trust us.” Right.
Hours of work go into getting one line at the end of a 20-inch story saying basically, “There is another way to see life,” and faith, if it motivates your view, cannot be one of the reasons for your position.
Isn’t it interesting that it is clearly bullying if someone is mocked for their looks or sexual orientation but it’s commentary and analysis if they are mocked for their faith, or the region of country they live in or their support for a candidate they have every right to choose.
On social media after the election, a number of people made disparaging comments saying, among many profanities, that the vast numbers of Americans who painted the country red with their votes were like “sheep.” I laughed heartily at that.
It’s work to hold and to defend a position that mainstream culture rejects. Your facts must be sharp and your arguments backed with insight.
It’s work to endure the droning on of celebrities and media analysts who are always telling you why they are right.
You must be strong to be gracious in the face of blatant disrespect and kind in explaining complex issues from a point of view that many reporters don’t even have the vocabulary to understand.
For years, I’ve worked with a number of thoughtful, intellectual people who provide excellent balance to the prevailing wisdom if the media took time to look. And they must work harder and longer to be heard.
Yet following Trump’s win, reporters seem puzzled about why the people they ignore are not listening to them. I offer some advice:
Pick up your phone. Check your e-mail. Go to an event not sponsored by the same groups you contribute to and yes, spend time in places where someone might disagree with you. I know firsthand that thoughtful, insightful conservatives have been trying to talk with you. Try talking with them.
And to those gatekeepers of shows, columns and news coverage, next time you want to explain a conservative point of view, feature an actual conservative. Go to the source and skip the filter. You just might learn something new.