#IndivisibleRadio: First week listener, first time critic — cc: @Kai_Wright @WNYC
When I heard an advertisement for #IndivisibleRadio, the new show from WNYC, I was so excited I immediately subscribed to the podcast and listened to the first episode the morning after it aired live. Boy, was I disappointed.
But I’m not here to trash this noble effort. Rather, in the spirit of the show, I’m here to offer some honest, unvarnished critique — in the hopes that its producers and hosts will avoid going down a dangerous path.
#IndivisibleRadio’s mission is to bring together all kinds of Americans to discuss the pressing issues of the day via a daily radio call-in show. It’s about everyday people, from all walks of life, being heard and listening to one another “in a time of change,” as they say.
Exciting, right? Needed, yes?
Sure — except one of Monday’s hosts (they rotate daily) committed what I consider to be a cardinal sin of the media and journalists in this era of Trump (an era that, though I can’t quite date it exactly, certainly started before he won the Electoral College).
In a conversation with a caller about Sean Spicer’s “alternative facts” on inauguration turnout, Kai Wright said something to the effect of, “I’m a journalist so I’m interested in the facts, but, I don’t know, does this really matter? Are we making a mountain out of a mole hill?”
Yes, it was a fleeting moment. And, no, I don’t know everything about Kai’s writing or career, and obviously I don’t know him personally (or I would have called him up instead!). This isn’t about him in the past. This isn’t even really about him. It’s about a journalist trying to help launch a show about much needed dialogue in a difficult time for our country. It’s about journalists and talk show hosts more broadly, giving credence to ideas that don’t deserve it. And for those reasons, I think his comment deserves analysis and criticism — to hopefully inform the show and perhaps influence others.
First of all, everyone should be interested in the facts, and journalists shouldn’t insinuate that caring about them is an acceptable preference — like Kirk versus Picard.
Second, how can anyone possibly not care about the White House press secretary lying to the American people — no matter the subject? I can say lying because the things he said are verifiably untrue, and he shouldn’t have said them if he didn’t know them to be true.
Now, I know some people don’t care about certain facts, right? Some people really don’t care whether Trump’s inauguration attracted larger or smaller crowds than any other president’s. It’s also okay, I think, to argue about why fewer people showed up. Can we really say it’s about less enthusiasm for his presidency than previous? (I think so.) But others have made the argument that his supporter base is much more spread out and farther away from Washington, DC, so it’s understandable that fewer people would show up to his inauguration than, say, Barack Obama’s. (Again, I personally think that argument only carries so much water, but it’s a logical interpretation of the facts, so I’ll at least consider it.)
But caring about the facts and about government officials lying to our faces (by choice, remember, since no one asked Sean Spicer to give that statement except, many of us assume, Donald Trump…) should matter to everyone.
Glibly suggesting that facts might be of interest mostly to journalists, or that those of us who are outraged by Spicer’s lying might be making a lot out of nothing, is antithetical to the fact-based discourse we so desperately need.
I need to believe in the power of the Fourth Estate right now more than I need to believe in just about anything else. I need to believe that folks like Kai understand that their job isn’t just to open the phone lines and read headlines and see what they think. I need them to stand up for truth and reality and honesty always — even when trying to create space for people who generally disagree with each other to say their peace.
I’m not saying it’s an easy job. Being a journalist — a real one, one who works to tell the truth, not just present “all sides” of an issue — has always been terribly hard work. And you better believe it’s going to get harder — like so many civic-oriented professions — in the next few years. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to slip into the “every opinion matters just as much as any other” way of thinking and acting, and to elevate each caller to the level of expert.
When an opinion is a logical way of interpreting a set of facts, it’s valid — even if I disagree with it or don’t share it. When an opinion is simply a feeling or belief or an expression of an ideology or an agenda in contradiction of the facts, it is not valid. It is not equal. It should not be treated as such.
Journalists should stand for this principle every moment of every day, even if it means alienating some readers, viewers, or listeners who reject or hate the facts. Because let’s face it, even if what we need in this country is more dialogue among people who don’t know each other, disagree on many things, but ultimately share a government and a nationality, what we absolutely don’t need — what we can’t take anymore of entirely — is a media that lifts up the voices of anyone willing to say anything, regardless of how false they are.
In short, I want dialogue. (I want a lot of other things too, like a government that respects the Constitution and basic human rights…) I’m willing to wince at things I find objectionable and challenge myself to hear other people’s fears, hopes, and perspectives that don’t match my own. But I am not — and none of us should be! — willing to entertain fact-resistant people in the interest of “everybody should have a say.”
I’d like to say I have hope for #IndivisibleRadio. I’ll keep listening, for now. But I won’t support a show that glosses over the importance of facts, that questions whether it really matters when our government lies to us — even if the questioning is in jest.
These are dead serious times. There’s no reaction too dramatic to a dismissal or slighting of honesty, truth, and facts.
I hope the folks at WNYC see this. I hope they take it as constructive criticism. I hope others join me in calling on the people who control the airwaves and the various media we see and digest to be united in putting truth above all else.